Later Naden and I tended to the washing up. “Vashet tells me your swordplay is progressing poorly,” he said without preamble. “She says you fear too much for your hands, and this makes you hesitant.” Firm reproach.
I froze at the abruptness of it, fighting the urge to stare at his ruined hand. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
He turned from the iron pot he was scrubbing and held out his hand in front of him. It was a defiant gesture, and his face was hard. I looked then, as ignoring it would be rude. Only his thumb and forefinger remained, enough to grip at things, but not enough for any delicate work. The half of his hand that remained was a mass of puckered scar.
I kept my face even, but it was hard. In some ways I was looking at my worst fear. I felt very self-conscious of my uninjured hands and fought the urge to make a fist or hide them behind my back.
“It has been a dozen years since this hand held a sword,” Naden said. Proud anger. Regret. “I have thought long on that fight where my fingers were lost. I did not even lose them to a skilled opponent. They fell to some barbarian whose hands were better suited to a shovel than the sword.”
He flexed his two fingers. In some ways, he was lucky. There were other Adem in Haert who were missing entire hands, or eyes, or limbs to the elbow or knee.
“I have thought a long time. How could I have saved my hand? I have thought about my contract, protecting a baron whose lands were in rebellion. I think: What if I had not taken that contract? I think: What if I had lost my left hand? I could not talk, but I could hold a sword.” He let his hand drop to his side. “But holding a sword is not enough. A proper mercenary requires two hands. I could never make Lover out the Window or Sleeping Bear with only one… “
He shrugged. “It is the luxury of looking backward. You can do it forever, and it is useless. I took the red proudly. I brought over two hundred and thirty talents to the school. I was of the second stone, and I would have made the third in time.”
Naden held up his ruined hand again. “I could have gained none of these things if I had lived in fear of losing my hand. If I flinched and cringed, I would never have been accepted into the Latantha. Never made the second stone. I would be whole, but I would be less than I am now.”
He turned back and began to scrub the pots again. After a moment I joined him.
“Is it bad?” I asked quietly, unable to help myself.
Naden didn’t answer for a long moment. “When it first happened, I thought to myself it was not so bad. Others have had worse wounds. Others have died. I was luckier than them.”
He drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I tried to think it was not bad. My life would continue on. But no. Life stops. Much is lost. Everything is lost.”
Then he said, “When I dream, I have two hands.”
We finished the dishes together, sharing silence between us. Sometimes that is all you can share.