Lirin was impressed by how calm he felt as he checked the child's gums for scurvy. Years of training as a surgeon served him well today. Breathing exercises, intended to keep his hand steady, worked just as well for covering up fugitives as they did for surgery.
"Here," he said to the child's mother, digging from his pocket a small carved carapace chit. "Show this to the woman at the dining pavilion, she will get you some juice for your son. Make certain he drinks it all each morning."
"Very thank you," the woman said in a thick Herdazian accent. She gathered her son close, then looked to Lirin with haunted eyes. "If... if child found-"
"I will make certain you are notified if we hear word of your other children," Lirin promised. "I'm sorry for your loss."
She nodded, wiped her cheeks and carried the child away towards the town. The morning fog obscured most of Hearthstone. On the outside, it looked like a group of dark shadowy lumps, like tumors. Lirin could barely make out the tarps stretched between buildings, offering meager shelter for the many refugees pouring out of Herdaz. Entire streets were closed off this way. The sounds of plates clinking and people talking rose through the fog. Those shanties would never last the storm, of course, but they could be quickly torn down and stowed. There just wasn't enough housing otherwise.
Glancing at the line of those waiting for admittance today, he wondered how many more people the town could hold. Erik and the other men - once guards at Roshone's mansion, now forbidden swords - organized the line and kept anyone from sneaking in town before Lirin saw them. He had persuaded Brightness Abijan that it was essential he see each refugee and judge if they'd be bringing dangerous diseases into the city. In truth, he wanted to intercept those who might need a wound bound or a treatment.
The woman carried her child up to the watchpost just out of town. Here, a group of armed parshmen lifted her hood and compared her face to descriptions that had been sent to them by the Fused. Hesina, Lirin's wife, stood nearby, ready to read the descriptions as required. She was one of the few women in the city who could read, though Brightness Abijan and several of the other parshwomen were quickly learning their lessons.
Parshmen carrying swords, learning to read. Even a year after their awakening, Lirin found the notion odd, but really, what was it to him? In some ways, little had changed, despite the coming of the Everstorm and the awakening of the Parshmen. Their skin was different, but the same old conflicts consumed them as easily as they had the Alethi brightlords. People who had a little taste for power wanted more and they sought it with the sword. Normal people bled and Lirin had to try to put them back together. He turned back to his line of waiting refugees - he still had at least a hundred to give medical assessments to today. And hiding among them was one in particular. In some ways, it was the man who was the author of all this suffering.
The next person in line had lost an arm in battle, but the wound was a few months old at this point and there was nothing that Lirin could do about the extensive scaring. He held up his finger and moved it back and forward before the man's face, watching his eyes track it.
Shock, Lirin thought. "Have you suffered wounds recently you are not telling me about?"
"No wounds," the man whispered, "but brigands, they took my wife, good surgeon. Took her, left me tied up to a tree, just walked off, laughing..."
Bother, mental shock wasn't something Lirin could cut out with a scalpel.
"Once you enter town," Lirin said, "look for tent fourteen and tell the women there I sent you to bed in that place."
The man nodded dully, though his stare was so hollow Lirin wondered if the man had registered the words. Memorizing the man's description - graying hair with a cowlick in the back, three large bulbs on the upper left cheek - Lirin made note to check tent fourteen for him later tonight. It was the place were he had assistants watching for refugees who might turn suicidal. It was, with so many to care for, the best that he could manage.
"On with you," Lirin said, gently pushing the man towards the town. "Tent fourteen, don't forget, I'm sorry for your loss." The man walked off.
"You say it so easily, surgeon," a voice said from behind Lirin.
Lirin stood and turned with surprise, then immediately bowed in respect. Abijan, the new city lord, was a parshwoman with stark white skin and fine red swirls on her cheeks.
"Brightness," he said, "What was that?"
"You told that man," Abijan said, "you were sorry for his loss. You say it so easily to each of them, but you seem to have the compassion of a stone. Do you feel, surgeon, for these people?"
"I feel, Brightness," Lirin said, "but I must be careful not to be overwhelmed by their pains. It's one of the first rules of becoming a surgeon."
"Curious," she said. The parshwoman raised her safehand, which was shrouded in the sleeve of her Havah. "Do you remember setting my arm when I was a child?"
"Such a curious memory," she said. "It feels like a dream to me now, that life. I remember pain, confusion, a stern figure bringing me more pain. But now I recognize that you were simply seeking to heal me. So much trouble to go through for a slave child."
"I've never cared whom I heal, Brightness, slave or king.
"I'm sure the fact that Wistiow paid good money for me had nothing to do with it. He of course wanted his investment protected." She narrowed her eyes at Lirin. When she next spoke there was a cadence to her words as if she were speaking the words to a song. "Did you feel for me? The poor confused child slave whose mind had been stolen from her. Did you weep for us, surgeon, and the life we led?"
"A surgeon must not weep," Lirin said softly. "A surgeon can not afford to weep."
"Like a stone," she said again, then shock her head. "Have you seen any plaguespren?"
"Diseases aren't caused by spren," Lirin said. "It is spread by contaminated water, improper sanitation, or sometimes the breath of those who bear it."
"Superstition," she said.
"The wisdom of the Heralds," Lirin replied. "We should be careful." Fragments of old manuscripts, translations of translations of translations, spoke of ancient diseases that killed thousands, spreading quickly and persistently. Such things hadn't been recorded in any modern text he had read, but he had heard rumors of something strange on the west. A new plague they were calling it. Details were sparse. In truth, he wasn't sure what to watch for, but Abijan moved on without further complaint to him. Her attendants, a group of elevated parshmen and parshwoman joined her. Though their clothing was of Alethi cuts and fashion, the colors were lighter, more muted than humans might wear. The Fused had explained that the singers in the past eschewed light, bright colors as to not distract from their distinctive skin patterns. Lirin sensed the searched for identity in the way that Abijan and the other parshmen acted. Their accents, their dress, their mannerisms - they were all distinctively Alethi, but they hung on what the Fused said about the lives of their ancestors and tried whenever they could to emulate them. He turned to the next group of refugees - a complete family for once - and though he should have been happy to see that, he couldn't help wondering how difficult it was going to be to feed five children and parents who were flagging from poor nutrition. As he sent them on, a familiar figure moved down the line towards him.
Laral wore a simple servant's dress now, with a gloved hand instead of a sleeve, and she carried a water bucket. Ostensibly, she was seeing that nobody in line was thirsty. She didn't walk like a servant though. There was a certain determination about the young woman that no forced subservience could smother. The end of the world itself seemed about as bothersome to her as a poor harvest once had. She paused by Lirin, offering him a drink, ladled it to a fresh cup rather than taking straight from the bucket, as he insisted.
"He is three down," Laral whispered to Lirin, as he sipped. <Laral grabbed him.>
"Shorter than I expected him to be," Laral noted. "He is supposed to be a great general, leader of the Herdezian resistance. Looks more like a traveling merchant than he does a soldier."
"Genius comes in all shapes, Laral," Lirin said, waving for another drink. More to give him an excuse to keep talking.
"Still," she said, then fell silent as Durnash passed by, a tall parshmen with swirled black and red skin a sword on his back. Once he was well on his way she continued softly, "I'm honestly surprised at you, Lirin. Not even once have you suggested that we turn this man in. He'd be executed. You think him a criminal, though, don't you?"
"Criminal? I'm not sure, but he bears a terrible responsibility. He perpetuated a war against an overwhelming enemy force, he threw away the lives of his men in a hopeless battle."
"Some would call that heroism."
"Heroism is a myth you tell idealistic young men to persuade them to go bleed for you," Lirin said. "It got my son killed and my other son taken from me. You can keep your heroism, and give me back the lives of those wasted on foolish conflicts."