22 – “The Madman Returns” – Shylai’a
Interludes – PTSD
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Illustration by Mark Hansen
I want to kill him.
I want him dead.
I should go back and cut his flaming head off.
Shylai’a staggered along the street, her eyes blurred by the flowing of tears. With a half-grunted scream, she slammed her shoulder into the wall of a building. Pain shot through her back and side. She swung her arm and hit the wall again, then threw her shoulder at it once more. The cold stone didn’t move. She flexed her sore muscles and slumped against it.
Please, Creator, let me kill him.
He brought the dragons to Twynne Rivers! He killed Korr!
Korr’s face appeared in her memory. Smiling, tranquil, at peace. Korr was the reason she hadn’t killed Tonklyn. Despite her rage, she knew that he would have stopped her. She had stood, frozen with conflict, until she couldn’t stand any more, and she’d fled.
She lifted her tear-streaked face to the clouds and let the snow drop onto her cheeks and forehead.
Why do you hate me?
She dropped her face again and sobbed. You brought Korr to me. Why?
She banged against the wall even more. Somehow, she wanted the physical pain to make her heart hurt less.
Why play games with me? I’m not your toy! Why send me the only man who ever showed me kindness, respect, ever treated me right, just to tear him away?
“Shylai’a,” a voice spoke softly.
She raised her head, blinking away the snow and tears. It was a man’s voice, raspy, yet gentle, with kindness. His gray blurry form stood a few steps before her. The vague shape of his hand held out to her. She blinked again, hard, to clear her vision.
She knew him instantly. Just like the many times they had met before, he was short and hunched, balding with long gray hairs growing over his ears and around the back of his head. He had a marginal beard and an insipid smile. He wore a gray robe, like a monk at a monastery cloister, and he carried a gnarly old stump of a cane. The Mad Prophet. Why are you here?
He reached out to her, offering his hand. “Shylai’a, my dear Shylai’a…” His tone was of a grandfather trying to help a crying child back to their feet after stumbling and scraping their knees.
She backed away. “Oh, no.” She shook her head, minimally at first, then more violently. “No. Not you. I can’t deal with you. Not now.” She turned around and staggered back up the street where she’d come.
She shouted back over her shoulder, “I’m done with you. You can’t help me. You can’t fix this! Leave me alone!” She ran, her feet tossing snow aside in clumps.
She ran from the old Prophet, ran from the chapel, ran from the pain. Her feet hit the slippery snow-covered cobblestones with an anxious scramble, driven by a need to be anywhere but wherever she was, to be anyone but whoever she had been. Buildings, streets, and alleyways blurred behind her in the heavy bluster of the gathering snowstorm. That was fine. She didn’t care where she was going anyway.
She turned a corner and hit a solid stone statue.
“Whoa, easy, there, sweet heart!” The statue’s burly arms pushed her back. “You’re gonna get hurt!”
Startled, she staggered and slipped in the snow. Another set of hands grabbed her shoulders from behind, keeping her from falling. She flailed and spun, frantically trying to regain her footing. The moment she felt steady, she swept her eyes about.
The statues were actually soldiers, five of them, all wearing brown and gold, livery that she instantly recognized as the militia of House Thornwell. Her eyes narrowed. Her experience as a soldier for House Kaelig had taught her to distrust militiamen in general, and Thornwell in particular. One stepped forwards and others circled around behind her.
Her jaw tensed as the foreword man smiled. “Well, you’re a cute little thing; this looks like my lucky day, after all.”
Shylai’a tried to back out, but the circle was already closed behind her. Her heartbeat raced for a moment as her eyes darted from face to face. She knew the look in their eyes all too well.
“Your lucky day? Why do you get her first?” a voice behind her asked.
“Because I outrank you!” The leader in front scowled.
I’m trapped! Almost by instinct, her feet moved in the snow, setting a fighting stance. Her hand dropped to her side. I have no sword. How can I fight without a sword?
The man drew his short blade and swished the tip of it at Shylai’a, drawing teasing lines in the air.
What am going to do?
He feinted a thrust, then another, and Shylai’a jumped and jerked to dodge the point. The man laughed. “You are all mine, girl, all mine.”
An image flashed in her mind of Korr. He had fought without a blade, first in the streets, then in Eddiwarth’s courtyard as they had sparred. Despite her own sword skills, his solid stance and fluid motions had landed her swordless and flat on the stones, just like the soldiers he also battled. Her feet sifted underneath her into the stone stance she’d seen him use, and her fists dropped to her waist. Her breathing steadied, her heart slowed, and her eyes became thin slices of anger in the dim. She felt a drive, a force of will rise up from deep inside her.
The man rushed her, thrusting with his sword. She surprised him by stepping into his lunge, snagging his wrist, and flipping him over her extended knee onto the cold stone. In a fluid motion she dropped beside him, driving her fist onto his throat. Before he even had a chance to choke on his first gasp, Shylai’a ripped the sword from his hand, spun, and buried it deep in the chest of one of the men behind her.
As he dropped to the snow, she jumped away, outside of the circle, and spun back, crouching low. The soldiers reacted in shock and one of them shouted. Now her heart pounded hard again, and her face went flush with rage. A guttural scream ripped out of her throat, slicing the wind as she struck again, slashing across another man’s neck and chest. Blood sprayed over his cloak and tunic, and horror filled his eyes before they rolled back and he tumbled to the ground.
One of the remaining two soldiers bolted away as the other drew his sword. She leaped at him, slashing and hacking, screaming furiously. He frantically swung his blade to block her onslaught. In a panic, his foot slipped on the bloody snow and he fell back. Shylai’a lunged at him, her arm set to drive the blade home to his heart.
She floated, half-suspended in the air, looking down at the man’s terrified face as if time itself had stopped moving. There was no sound in her ears, and the snowflakes hung gently spinning in place in the air.
Her eyes darted around her. What’s happening? I can’t move! Can I?
She shifted her hips and shoulders. They responded, but only gradually. The snow is still falling, but it’s so slow.
With extreme effort, she set her foot on the ground and turned. She gasped as she surveyed the chaotic carnage in the alley. Three bodies sprayed with blood, one gagging his last breath in the center of a bloody snow angel on the cobblestones. All trapped almost completely still in a slowly shifting scene of death.
Beside them all, a man in a gray robe stood, his hand outstretched and glowing, a look of kind sadness on his face. “Shylai’a,” he said, and turned his hand over to offer it to her.
“I… I…” she stammered. She glanced over the red and white scene at her feet and her face distorted in a grimace. Choking and sobbing, tears flowed over her pain-twisted cheeks.
The Mad Prophet stepped over a body and reached up to take her in a kindly embrace. She dissolved into his arms, crying inconsolably. He hummed a little melody, the same cheery tune she’d always heard him sing as he’d danced along the street. Now he just held her, swaying back and forth in time to the song. He gently stroked her hair. “You‘ll be fine. You’ll heal. All will be well again soon enough.”
“I can’t…” she wailed, “I can’t go on. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I know,” he said, “but you will. Let’s go back home.”
Author’s Note: PTSD?
I feel a bit dangerous, here. Or at least that I’m on dangerous ground. Shylai’a has PTSD. Being in the final battle in the palace and seeing Korr killed has definitely left her with PTSD. I’ve talked to some people and I’ve done some reading about PTSD, but I’ve never had it, myself. Or at least, I’ve never had the diagnosis.
But I want to be as true as I can be to those with PTSD. It’s not easy to deal with, and I don’t want to make light of it. It’s pretty clear though, that Shylai’a and Illariel both have to deal with the aftermath of that day.
Tonklyn also has PTSD, but in a very different way. The things he’s moving through are very difficult. *I* think it’s PTSD, but I may need to do more research.
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