Aeris opened her mouth as if to speak, hesitated and then thought better of it. She raised her left hand, her good hand, to the place where metal met skin on her right arm and, slowly and with great care, she began to twist the bolts and catches that held the prosthetic in place. Her face contorted slightly as she fiddled with the cool steel; it was not painful, at least not in the agonising, vomit inducing way it had been when she lost the limb, but it was uncomfortable.
It took a few moments, but Aeris was able to loosen everything sufficiently that she was able to detach the metal arm. The stump was uneven, but the scarring, where surgeons had expertly sewn the wound closed, was smooth and neat. There were small pits in the skin, medicine made, which acted as permanent fixings for the prosthetic; some to hold it in place, some to attach the machinery to what remained of nerves and ligaments, which allowed Aeris the full movement and control she had.
The skin was inflamed and sore looking; even after all these years, her arm had not developed callouses to protect her from the friction of the prosthetic. Still, it was better than the alternative, of having only one working upper limb.
The princess leant over the side of the bed, exposing her bare back to her new husband, the bones of her vertebrae showing as she moved. Aeris tucked the now lifeless limb under the bed and out of the way, before pulling herself back upright and shifting in to a more comfortable position. Absent mindedly, she stroked the stump, never once actually looking at it.
“There,” she said in a matter of fact tone, “that is one less thing to come between us.” She bit her tongue, thoughtfully, picking her next words with care, “death is something Qaeltine has always been averse to; we do not celebrate a life when someone passes, we do not see a beauty in it, or recognise it as being part of a bigger thing. Death is loathsome, bringing with it pain for those left alive, and nothing but rot and decay for the deceased,” Aeris paused for a moment, then, “well. Qaeltine was opposed to death, I suppose. The recent warfare has… Made us numb and indifferent, as I am sure if has for many of the Hudvalri.”
Aeris lay back on the bed, tucking her arm behind her head and stretching long legs out, with a click of her joints.
“Thus, we sought everything we could to prevent death. For the most part, our medicine was met with praise, as we extended the lives of our people and gave them opportunities that they had previously been denied, such as children for the infertile or limbs for the, ah,” Aeris cast her amber gaze upon Lokkir, “for the likes of me. The amputees.” Aeris swallowed, before continuing, “that is not to say our medicine has not seen its share of controversy. Not everyone agrees with what our doctors do, claiming it is unnatural. Your… Dislike of Qaeltine’s advancements in this area is not new to our people. You will not be the first person to be opposed to it, nor will you be the last.”
Aeris shrugged then, as best as she was able with the one arm beneath her head.
“I was fairly indifferent to it until I became a soldier. Until I lost my arm and Aerin his leg.” The princess took a deep breath before continuing, “it was agony. Not just the initial blow, but everything that followed. We do not have magic, as you know, and by having my arm literally ripped from me… One moment I was able and independent, the next I was crippled.” Aeris spoke the word as if it was poison on her tongue, foul and bitter. “I did not just lose flesh and bone that day. Without the feats that Qaeltine is capable of, I would never have regained any of what was lost to me then. Nor would Aerin, or any of our comrades.”
Aeris closed her eyes, silent.
“Ironic, is it not? As you say, we are forced to refute the humanity of our enemies. I fought in the cavalry; unlike you, I was face to face with the enemy, with those I killed, yet, without doubt, I saw none of them as people. Just the phantom ‘enemy’. Still, it is than lack of humanity that the Hudvalri placed on me that led to the loss of my arm. Then, in replacing it with metal, you and yours find it easier to see me an inhuman. As a monster or a machine. So then I am easier to maim. Then I repair myself. Then you maim me again, and so it goes. It is a vicious circle.” Aeris opened her eyes, propping herself up on her elbow to look Lokkir in the eyes.
“I… I do not blame you, you know. You or Hudvalri. For this, I mean,” she gestured with a nod of her head to what remained of her right arm. “It would be easy to but… It would be hypocritical. I have no doubt in my mind I have done the same, and worse, to your people for the same reasons. To condemn the person who hurt me, I would have to condemn myself also. And that is more difficult to live with.”
Aeris dropped back down onto the bed with a laugh, devoid of any real joy. She raised her hand to cover her eyes, lips still smirking.
“War, what is it good for?” Aeris lowered her hand, staring at the ceiling above her, with its painted runes and electric lights.
“Jade, by the way. My favourite colour is jade.”