The camp stretched south for sepeks. The tents huddled together, sagging in the rain. Large wooden tubs for washing clothes and bathing sat just outside the tents. Someone had put up clotheslines and the wet clothes swayed in the frigid breeze.
As Toyus walked down the main aisle between tents, he could hear wet coughing and retching. His uncle, King Yvar’h, had sent empathic healers, but four were woefully inadequate to tend to 350 patients. In the three weeks since Toyus had arrived on the shuttle, the sick had increased exponentially.
Not everyone was sick, however. Some were like him, having crossed the molting and become something other, between human and Sha’jeen. Riots in Draemin city had resulted in dozens of Amalgamese being killed before guards could react. The rest of the Amalgamese had been exiled to this camp, awaiting the return of the shuttle from the moon.
The longer they lingered in North Torahn, the more uneasy Toyus grew. Something was going to happen; he could feel it, taste it in the very air. Besides, the cold and damp conditions of kamaran continued to kill every day. Poverty and misery were daily realities. The government of Draemin city sent food and water once a week, but it was not enough.
Because he was Queen Malida’s oldest child, Toyus was viewed as a leader. Although he had been schooled all his life to be a leader, a ruler, a king, still authority did not sit well on his shoulders. It helped that his father stayed in the camp with him. They went over every crucial decision and every act he took. His father’s presence lent him courage and surety.
Since coming to the camp, he had organized work groups to dig holes for the disposal of waste matter, for cleaning up detritus around the camp, he had helped set up a ruling party, and he had given each family a number for their exodus from the continent. The shuttle could only carry a few families at a time, so the refugees would be shuttled out in parcels.
Now, if only he could calm down. Every day increased his feelings of impending doom until he had nightmares and had a hard time calming himself down.
Ahead, he saw oun Nilja with five children. The Sha’jeen was chasing the children, who were giggling and screaming with joy. Some of the children were Amalgamese, some were human. oun Nilja ducked around a tent and one of the children barreled into Toyus’s legs.
The child stiffened and gazed up at Toyus with awe and some fear.
“Hey there,” Toyus said as kindly as he could. “Are you being chased?”
The boy nodded. He had a light gold down, like Toyus. Toyus ran the back of a finger along the down on the boy’s cheek.
“Just watch where you run, picu,” Toyus murmured and stepped to one side.
The children ran on.
Toyus caught a glimpse of oun Nilja stalking them from behind the tents.
He shook his head and continued to the main hospital pavilion. The flaps of the hospital tent were pinned back to allow easy entrance.
Toyus ducked and entered. This tent housed forty patients and was manned by one empathic healer. Kaster and Topon were in charge of the hospital.
Kaster was bent over a sick man, shining a light into his right eye.
“Hello, Toyus,” Topon murmured. He stood at a small table where the sentinels kept a microscope, a Bunsen burner, a mortar and pestle, and flasks, beakers and droppers.
Toyus strode to the dusky sentinel. “Any other discovery?”
Topon sighed. “No. The disease kills ¼ of those it infects, changes ½ and seemingly ignores the other ¼. Nothing’s changed and I can’t seem to get a handle on Chimera. It lives a long time outside the body and seems to enter the body by air and blood.” He gazed around the room and lowered his voice. “I think there are at least three strains. The strain that attacked you was fast-acting. There are others. One which is slow to act once in the body and another that seems to be benign.” He rubbed his cheek. “I am at a crossroads here, Toyus. This is all we can do for your people. You taught us to allow Chimera to progress without interruption. That has saved many, many lives.”
Toyus nodded. “My concern is getting out of here. Those riots were not the end of it. The citizens of Draemin know the camp is here.”
Topon frowned. “the shuttle is due back tonight. We’ll start transporting people west.”
“I’ll stay until the last group leaves,” Toyus told him.
Topon smiled and nodded. “you’re becoming quite the leader, Toyus.”
Toyus’ down stood on end, signaling his discomfort.
Topon laughed. “and you’re humble. These people are lucky.”
“Topon, can you come over here for a minute?” Kaster called.
Toyus began to walk along the rows of sick. When a patient was awake, Toyus would pull a stool over and sit down next to him or her. Some looked like they had a foot in the afterlife already. They were thin, skeletal really, their hair plastered to their skulls, their eyes too large in their faces.
Toyus talked to every one of them unless they slept.
There was a boy, around fifteen, although he looked younger. He was pale and thin. His hand looked large against the rest of him. He had black hair and amber eyes. His hand, in Toyus’s, was cold and trembled like a caught bird.
“How are you doing, Suli?” Toyus asked.
The boy grimaced. “Tired.” His eyes swam. “Why did my father take a knife to me, Toyus? He hates me.”
Suli was in-between: half-way through the molting. He had a fine golden down that matched exactly his eye color. Every day that passed provided more and more down.
Toyus squeezed his hand. “your father does not understand why you are changing. He’s afraid of you, of all of us. He isn’t your family any longer. You have a new family now, Suli.”
Suli nodded. “I know.” His face crumbled. “But he’s my father!”
Toyus placed his hand on Suli’s forehead. “I know. I’m lucky that I have the father that I have. I don’t know what I’d do without his support. All I can do is offer you my friendship and support, Suli.”
Suli smoothed his face and wiped away his tears. “Thank you, Toyus.”
Toyus patted his hand and set it on Suli’s chest. “My honor, Suli. My honor.”
Suli gave him a brave smile.
“You rest now, Suli,” Toyus murmured and made to stand.
Suli surged up and took hold of his hand. “Am I going to die, Toyus?”
Toyus sighed and made the lad lay down once more.
“You know I won’t lie to you, Suli,” he said. “It’s with the Goddess. Pray.”
The lad lay down once more and swallowed thickly. “I will, Toyus.”
He left the medical tent and pulled the hood of his cloak over his head against the icy drizzle.
He turned and grinned at his sire as he strode down the aisle to where Toyus stood before.
“Eda,” Toyus murmured against his father’s shoulder.
His father sighed. “How are you, my son?”
“I am well, Eda.
They began walking side by side towards their tent.
“I’ve set guards along the periphery of the camp, sir,” Toyus said. “They will warn us if anything happens.”
“Good, good,” Moyen replied.
“What is it, Father?” Toyus asked. “You seem distracted.”
“I had a meeting with your Uncle Yvar’h,” Moyen replied. “We will be getting more sick and molting soon.”
Toyus looked at his father. “Does he take it seriously now, Father?”
Moyen sighed “He appears to. However, there are those at Court who are becoming more vocal. That faction of people who want the Amalgamese dead.”
“We must get the most people out of here as we can,” Moyen told him. “That is all we can do.”
“When is the shuttle to return?” Toyus asked.
“Kaster told me sometime in the middle of the night.”
Toyus nodded. “We’ll begin to shuttle people away then, but it will still take several days.”
They entered their tent. Toyus removed his damp cloak and draped it over the back of a chair. He strode to the food crate and removed the lid, taking out dried meat, a chunk of cheese wrapped in cloth and a bag of dried, sweetened bala berries. Carrying their bounty to the table, he set the items down before taking a seat.
Moyen set a bottle of wine and two mugs on the table and sat across from Toyus.
They ate in companionable silence, both distracted by their own thoughts.
Outside the tent flap, night fell as the rain continued to fall.
After dinner, Toyus took up a book and read at the table while his father lay down on his cot.
The rain eventually stopped near midnight. A brittle wind whipped through the camp, shaking the tents.
Toyus thought the wind smelled of snow and wondered if the morning would produce their first snowfall.
He rose, bending to turn down the oil lamp when screams tore the night asunder. He grabbed for his sword in its scabbard hanging from the back of the chair, and ran outside, his father’s shouts at his back.
Fire was stark against the black skies and acrid smoke clogged his throat and burned his nose. Coughing, he narrowed his eyes. The scene was total chaos with people running and fighting, but he spotted the some of the raiders almost right away. They were tall, broad, shaggy men with fur cloaks and knee-high boots. They wore scarves around the lower halves of their faces.
The man closest to him had a child by the ankle and was shaking it savagely.
With a rageful cry, Toyus ran, lifting his sword and swinging like a mallet, cleaving the man from shoulder to midriff. The man screamed and dropped the child.
The child lay stunned on the ground. Toyus bent and picked him up, running back the way he had come and handing him to his father.
“Make sure he is well!” he shouted and ran into the melee once more.
He swung his broadsword. Sometimes he hit steel but mostly he hit soft and solid things. He screamed with rage and despair when he saw some of the dead were women and children. He lost himself to the battle, not caring how many he dispatched.
One raider met him with a torch. He swung the torch in a half-circle, aiming to set Toyus on fire or to keep him back. Toyus jumped back. The man kept coming.
“Behind you, Toyus!” he heard someone call.
Toyus hopped to the side and turned. A masked man threw a dagger. The dagger sank into Toyus’s gut.
He grunted. His hands were shaking badly as he took hold of the dagger and pulled it out. The pain sliced through him, hot and bright. Turning on the man, he threw the dagger with deadly accuracy. It embedded itself in the man’s throat. The breath swooshed out of the man and he fell.
“You fucking freak!” the man holding the torch screamed.
He ran at Toyus, waving the torch in a semi-circle before him.
Toyus abided his time while the man drew nearer. Then instinct took over. Toyus bent and turned, swining his leg in an arc. He knocked the torch from the raider’s hand.
Toyus swung his sword to the right and down, slicing off the man’s hand. The man screamed, cradling the wounded arm to his chest.
Toyus hefted his sword. “The only freak here is you.”
He swung his sword, slicing the man’s head half off. Blood spurted in an arc. His eyes over the scarf glazed over. His body stood a moment on its knees before toppling forward.
Toyus’s wound was beginning to throb. He put a hand to his middle. His tunic was soaked in blood.
He looked around with graying eyesight, but it was hard to see past the smoke.
“Toyus!” Moyen cried.
“Father, make sure everyone is alright,” Toyus murmured. He felt cold and was beginning to shiver.
“The Sentinels are on it, son,” Moyen said. “Come to the medical tent.”
Toyus focused on putting one foot in front of the other and allowing his father to lead him. He was not sure he was going to make it to the tent. He was sick with nausea. He looked ahead, concentrating on placing one foot before the other. Then he was being led into a tent.
“Toyus! Is he alright?” Kaster demanded.
“He was wounded,” Moyen replied.
“Here. He can lay here,” the Sentinent said.
Toyus lay down on the pallet and groaned at the pain.
Kaster cursed as he pulled up Toyus’s tunic.
“Topon! Hot water and cloths!” the Sentinel called out.
Toyus closed his eyes. Everything was spinning and he was afraid he might be sick. He went hot and cold.
“Bring an empathic healer!” he heard Kaster call out.
The pain sharpened until Toyus’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he lost his battle with unconsciousness.