Brief Hiatus!

As some of you know, I’m adjusting to a new job and a few other upheavals in my life–good upheavals, fortunately. I’m taking a brief vacation from posting to catch my breath and catch up with other blogs.

My regular posts–Meta Monday, Tarot Tuesday and story posts–resume on Monday, March 20th. Hope to see you then!

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Brothers of the Watch: Part 18

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

Devon yawned as he walked down the main stairway. Although ‘main stairway’ was, perhaps, too grand a term. It was as narrow and creaking as the so-called ‘servant’s staircase’ in the kitchen.

Emma smiled from her spot at the table, where she was sitting sideways with her feet up on the chair next to her. “Is Katie asleep?”

He grinned as he sat down opposite her. “She finally nodded off, after about half an hour of coaxing. Fortunately, I don’t think the rest of your brood will last much longer.”

“Thank Merune.” She allowed herself to slouch in relief. “Don’t you dare mention my poor posture or lack of stays,” she added. “I plead my bulging belly here as an excuse.”

“Believe me, I wasn’t going to say a word. Ah, how go things between my brother and Shane?”

She bit her lip and wiggled her toes. “I think there have been fisticuffs, but I don’t think there’s been murder.”

Dev frowned. “But Shane can’t roughhouse with my brother anymore. A slave can’t fight his master. Doesn’t Brock realize that?”

“I don’t know. I—I’m not sure how those two are sorting it out.”

He rolled his eyes. He should be used to this by now. He came from a family with a long history of using their fists to settle their differences. His uncles were masters at it; their brawls were legendary. But Devon had never seen the point of brawling. Not when tactful but honest words could solve so many more problems.

Emma hadn’t grown up with so much brawling in her family—but then Brock had married above himself. Her father was a prosperous merchant, albeit one with so many daughters that her dowry had not been as generous as it should have been.

What about Shane? Devon furrowed his brow. He seemed to enjoy roughhousing as much as Brock. Yet he, too, was theoretically from a more civilized merchant family—one with a much larger fortune than Emma’s, as it turned out.

He pushed that thought aside and strained his ears, listening for any sound of a jaw cracking. But Emma was right. He could make out two voices wafting in from outside, so obviously neither man had murdered the other. There was nothing for it. Devon yawned again and leaned back in his chair, figuring it best to wait and talk to Brock after he and Shane had settled their disagreement.

-oOo-

Devon sprang up from his chair when Brock and Shane walked inside. Shane’s nose was swelled up and bloody. “What happened?”

Shane grinned. “We settled our differences.”

“It’s my fault.” Brock shook his head. “I didn’t realize that Shane—I thought it would be a fair fight.”

Emma sighed and struggled to her feet. “Here, let me get you a cool, damp cloth, at least. I don’t know where we can find ice at this time of night . . . .”

“A cool cloth will suit fine,” Shane assured her.

Devon walked up to him and put an arm around his back. Shane put his arm over Dev’s shoulder in return and leaned into him. Brock narrowed his eyes at the pair of them, but then shrugged, apparently deciding not to comment.

“Let’s get you settled upstairs,” Dev said, ignoring his brother—at least for the moment. “I’ll bring the cloth up in a bit.”

-oOo-

Devon insisted on undressing Shane. Shane smiled a little ruefully at that, but decided that being babied by this charmer might not be the worst of fates.

“I’m sorry for the blood on your waistcoat,” he ventured as Dev unbuttoned it.

“Our waistcoat,” Dev paused to run his hands over it. “I reckon we can treat our clothes as interchangeable now. Besides, it’s Brock’s fault. I ought to—” ”

Shane took hold of his chin. “Don’t even think about it, cub.”

“Cub, is it?” Devon’s doe-brown eyes lit up at the challenge. “You need to stop underestimating me. I’m not a child. And I currently outrank you.”

“Well, that last is true. Plan on teaching me a lesson?”

“I do, as it happens. But first I want to know why you’re not furious with my brother. I am.”

Shane released him. “Don’t go charging down there on my behalf.”

“Why not? Your nose is still swelling—I’ll wager it’s broken.”

“Probably, but don’t blame Brock. I couldn’t hit back, but I should have ducked. I just—I needed him to understand that things are different now.” He paused to shrug out of the waistcoat, but then he tossed it aside and placed his hands on Devon’s shoulders. “Don’t fratch with your brother over this. He and I will be locking antlers over other matters. I’ll need you on my side.”

“What other matters?”

Shane let go of him and sat down on the bed. “Have you met Lieutenant Will Talon?”

Devon frowned. “Once or twice, I think. One of my uncles helped train him.”

“That’s the one. He despises what he calls ‘cock-sucking sodomites,’ so he’s never been a friend of mine. In fact, there was an ugly, ah, clash between us back when I first joined the Watch. But that’s ancient history, and apparently Will’s more outraged with Brock just now than with me.”

“For arresting you and testifying against you?”

Shane locked his fingers together and nodded. “Yes. He’s sees that as a betrayal of a fellow watchman. I think he might be willing to comb through Brock’s notes on the Harris murder with me—and if we find anything, he’d be the perfect man to petition the white heads at Ironbound to reopen the case.”

Dev took the seat next to him. “Because, unlike Brock, no one would accuse him of being prejudiced in your favor?”

“Right. But Brock’s not so certain about asking Will. He’s allowing it, but—you know how he is. I may need you to help keep the peace if Will agrees.”

Devon peered at him. Shane had the uncomfortable feeling that the boy was seeing far more than he wanted him to. Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dev was the grandson of a watchman, the son of a watchman, the nephew of two watchmen, and the little brother of a watchman. He should know when someone was telling him only half the story. It was in his blood.

“Brock doesn’t usually hold a grudge about ancient history.” Devon cocked his head at Shane. “So why would he object to asking this man?”

He swallowed. “It was a nasty altercation. Will was the aggressor. But this was back when we were all cadets. Even Brock doesn’t think Will would pull something like it now.”

“A nasty altercation? Why aren’t you giving me any details?”

“As I said, it’s ancient history.”

Devon rolled his eyes. “Are you going to be like Brock—parsing what you tell me when it comes to Watch business? I know Brock doesn’t tell us the half of it.”

Shane felt his face heat up. “Look, that altercation was a humiliating experience for me, so I’d as soon not dwell on it. But, ah—Brock tells Emma considerably more than half of what goes on in the Watch. If I end up as a consultant or some such, I’ll do you the same courtesy.”

“Thank you,” Dev said, still piercing him with his eyes. “Let’s get you into bed, and then I’ll go have a word with my brother.”

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Brothers of the Watch: Part 17

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

Brock glanced at Shane from across the dinner table. “Did you get all your stuff?”

“Uncle Shane brought me his other regimentals!” Alice beamed.

Cane rolled his eyes at his sister. “You’re wearing them, Allie. We ain’t blind.”

“I did,” Shane cut a piece of trout for Katie. He was getting used to sitting at the table with the toddler on his lap. “Here, have some fish.”

“Fish,” she repeated. Then she opened her mouth and accepted the bite from his fork.

“When is she going to speak in sentences?” Nance squinted at Katie as if her baby sister were an insect inexplicably foisted on the family.

“When she’s ready,” Emma answered. “Will you pass the biscuits, Devon?”

He obliged and then shot a glance at Shane. “We also stopped at the bank. We took care of some legal issues with Shane’s new standing.”

Shane froze for a moment, not sure why Dev was bringing that up over supper. “Yes. We, ah, set up my account so that you can draw from the funds as needed, Brock.”

“But Shane can still draw from them too,” Devon added, “unless you tell the bank otherwise, of course.”

Shane watched as Emma suddenly applied herself to her food. Brock, meanwhile, merely grunted.

“What are funds?” Cane asked.

“Brass.” Ian’s voice dripped with contempt at his brother’s ignorance. “Don’t you know anything? Da can take brass out of Uncle Shane’s bank accounts now.”

Cane’s eyes lit up. “Do you have a lot of brass, Uncle Shane?”

“Yes, he does,” Devon answered.

“So, then, Da has a lot of brass now?”

“It’s not polite to talk about money at the table, children.” Emma gave her sons a withering glance. “And that goes for you two as well, Shane and Dev.”

“Yes, Emma,” Shane winked at her. “My apologies.”

“Mine too,” Dev added, offering her his most contrite smile.

Brock, however, was subjecting both men to a searching glance. “You two have something else you want to tell me?”

“Not over supper.” Shane forced himself to keep his voice even.

Brock studied him for a moment longer, but then nodded and turned back to his food.

“Ah, actually, I think we should put this out in the open now,” Devon said. “Don’t worry, Emma,” he added. “It is about money, but not in a vulgar way.”

“Dev?” What in hell was the boy thinking?

“Trust me, Shane. Better now while the whole family is here.”

“So we can hide behind the cubs?” He should have seen this coming. For Devon, it seemed natural for everyone in the family to know each other’s business. It probably never occurred to him that Shane would want to keep this a private matter between himself and Brock.

He was going to strangle the boy when he got him alone.

Devon probably read his thoughts, but he grinned anyway. “Well, Brock can’t very well throw a punch at you while you’re holding Katie.”

“Punch,” Katie repeated in that quiet voice she used when she wasn’t sure of a word yet.

Brock put his cutlery down. “Whatever it is, you two had best come out with it.”

“Very well,” Shane said. “I paid a visit—”

“We paid a visit,” Dev corrected.

“—to Kellner and Sons. They were happy to accept payment for your debts.”

“The ones you incurred for my education, Brock.”

There was a long moment of silence around the table. “Ah, that’s good, isn’t it Da?” Ian finally ventured.

“Finish your food, Ian,” Emma said. “Brock, Dev and Shane—if you three wish to discuss this, please do it elsewhere.”

“No, they were right to bring it up now.” Brock leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “If they’re going to confess to going behind my back, they might as well do it when I can’t throttle Shane.”

Shane sighed. “Do you want to take this outside?”

“We will, don’t worry,” Brock assured him. “Finish your meal. Then you can hand Katie off to Devon. He now has the chore of keeping her entertained and quiet for the remainder of the evening.”

Dev cringed.

Tammy, who had been quiet all evening, suddenly piped up. “Pass the cider, please.”

Alice picked up the pitcher and passed it down, and the conversation gradually returned to normal.

-oOo-

Shane stood in the yard, waiting for Brock. It was pleasant enough out here. The moon was near full, providing enough light to see by. And it was warmer than last night, but still too early for mosquitoes.

He heard the back door open and turned to find Brock approaching him. The man wasn’t in a talking mood. Well, why would he be? Shane knew that his pride was hurt. He didn’t want his partner rescuing him from financial disaster.

So Shane was prepared when Brock took a swing at him. It was a powerful punch, but a slow one. Brock wasn’t disguising his intention, and normally Shane would have blocked him easily. Instead Brock’s fist slammed into his nose and Shane barely stopped himself from reeling backward.

Brock stood there, dumbfounded, as the blood splattered. “What the—Shane, why didn’t you block me? Or duck? Or try for a gut-punch?”

Shane swallowed and then squeezed his nostrils together to staunch the bleeding. “We’re not two equals who can settle our differences with fists anymore,” he managed.

“But—”

“Brock, think! I can’t throw a punch at my master. Things are different now.”

He rolled his eyes. “Suddenly you’re a stickler for the rules? Come here.”

Shane complied, accepting the arm Brock put over his shoulders as well as the handkerchief he offered him. “Think how an outsider might react. You don’t want a reputation for keeping a dangerous slave—”

“Shh. Come over here and sit down.”

Brock led them to the bench that hunched against the back of the house. Shane went without protest. He didn’t even bother to disentangle himself from Brock as they sat.

“Is your nose broken?”

“I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter—I don’t reckon there’s much we can do about it.”

Brock sighed and pulled him a little closer. “Lean your head forward—that’s it. How did you know who my creditors were?”

“I sneaked a look at your books.”

“You—why in hell did you go behind my back like that?”

Shane closed his eyes. “It was that or spend at least a month locking antlers with you about the funds.”

“You should have locked antlers. Damn it, Shane, that’s what always gets you into trouble! You disagree with the law, or a captain or anyone or anything with proper authority over you and you take matters into your own fucking hands. How many times have I watched you do this?”

Shane felt Brock’s fingers massaging his hair and his scalp. That took some of the sting out of the lecture. But Brock knew him better than anyone else did, so his words still cut deep. No wonder the man thought he was guilty.

-oOo-

Brock kept his arm around Shane and kept massaging his scalp. His partner rarely allowed him this much contact. He wasn’t a tactile man by nature. Was that some old blood trait? Probably not. Shane had been born and raised in Halcrest, after all. He didn’t know much about his Vasteke heritage.

But that wasn’t the only reason Shane tended to pull away, Brock wagered. It was a misguided attempt to protect him from any ill rumors. But he didn’t care what the likes of Will Talon insinuated about the two of them.

“I’m sorry,” Shane said softly, keeping his eyes shut. “Not for paying your debts—that was the right thing to do. But for doing it behind your back instead of . . . instead of arguing with that thick, stubborn skull of yours.”

“I wasn’t drowning, you know. I would have handled it.”

“Well, now it’s handled.”

Brock swallowed a retort and decided to turn the subject. “I gathered up all my notes on Harris’s murder.”

“Good. I want to see them.”

“You can’t investigate, Shane. You don’t have the authority anymore.”

“Does pouring over your notes count as investigating?”

“No, but acting on them does.”

Shane fell quiet. “Will you admit that I might be innocent, even if your gut says otherwise?”

“Of course. Hell, I want to prove you innocent. Find me something I missed or misinterpreted, and I’ll petition to reopen the investigation.”

“As it happens, Brock, I’d rather it not be you.”

That took a moment to sink in. Brock felt himself stiffen. “Why not?”

Shane shifted so that he was facing him. “We’re too close. The white heads won’t give enough weight to any new evidence you find.”

“That’s true,” Brock owned. “You have a solution?”

“We ask someone who’s not so close to me to help comb through your notes. Better still, someone who’s made my life miserable in the past. And then, if we find good cause, we ask him to petition the white heads.”

Brock grimaced. Suddenly he knew just who his partner had in mind. “Shane—”

“We ask Will Talon.”

Link to Part 18

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Tarot Tuesday: Strength

rws_tarot_08_strengthThe Rider-Waite-Smith deck calls this card Strength. Older decks sometimes name it Fortitude, linking it more firmly to the four cardinal virtues: Fortitude (or Courage), Justice, Temperance and Prudence. Three of these virtues (counting Strength) show up in the Major Arcana. Only Prudence is missing, though it appears in a 16th century deck called the Minchiate.

Strength has a new number as well as a new name. It’s number eight here, but number eleven in older decks. Basically, the RWS deck switches the places of Strength and Justice.

But no matter. This card is a beautiful example of inner strength, regardless of what you call it our how you number it.

A woman and a lion tower over their landscape. Why are they portrayed as giants? Even the mountains look tiny compared to them. Maybe their size lends them—or the lesson they want to teach us—a sort of cosmic significance? And look at that infinity symbol above the woman’s head. We’ve seen that ‘lemniscate’ halo before, floating over the Magician.

The woman seems to be gently closing the lion’s mouth. And the lion doesn’t seem to be fighting it. So is the lion some shadow side of herself? That’s how I read it.

The lion has lots of good associations: in Judaism, it’s the symbol of the tribe of Judah, representing strength and leadership. (Jacob, while on his deathbed, had words for each of his sons. He called Judah a young lion and predicted the dominance of Judah’s tribe.) That’s in tune with heraldic views of the lion: it’s a symbol of courage and kingship.

But the lion is also linked to a fierce, fiery passion—and a fierce, fiery temper. (Just look at the way astrologers view people born under Leo.) Maybe this woman has some unexpected rage in her? If so, she doesn’t beat herself up about it. She just gently, but firmly, closes the mouth of her, um, ‘inner beast.’ She can draw on its positive aspects, but she won’t let its teeth harm anyone.

I’m working on a story now about a character who’s learning this lesson. He’s all too aware of the anger burning up inside of him, eating him alive. But getting angrier and angrier at himself for it—well, let’s just say it doesn’t help anything. He needs to find a better way.

What do you make of this card? Do you see it representing an inner struggle, or do you have a different interpretation? What kind of character does this card suggest? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, if the card inspires a story, poem or meta of your own, please leave a link.

Okay, we need a card for next week: the Ten of Wands.

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Meta Monday: Go Watch The Good Place!

screenshot-2017-02-27-20-24-27

Marvelous Cast: Manny Jacinto, Kristin Bell, William Jackson Harper and Jameela Jamil

Go watch The Good Place. It’s a quirky, funny, twisty, thought provoking show set in the afterlife. Telling you anything else would give too much away! Trust me on this. My friend forced me to watch it without saying even that much. She kept me in the dark, and I’m grateful for it.

screenshot-2017-02-27-20-44-46

And Ted Danson!

Yeah, yeah. Season one is over, so normally I wouldn’t worry about spoilers. But this is a show on the bubble, still searching for a wider audience, and I really, really don’t want to ruin it for anyone.

Down the road, I’d love to talk about some of the ethical and relationship issues the show brings up. But for now, just stream it and see for yourself.

And yes. This is my whole Meta Monday today. Just go watch this show!

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Brothers of the Watch, Part 16

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

Mr. Bryan Kellner adjusted his spectacles and then folded his hands on top of his desk. “I understand you are here to settle the debts of Lieutenant Brock Parr?”

“I am.” Shane sat stiffly in the chair provided. But the man was polite enough, even though he must have noticed the slave tag. “Lieutenant Parr has command of my financial assets now.”

Kellner nodded and turned to Devon. “And you are?”

“Devon Parr, Lieutenant Parr’s brother.” He paused to bestow that charming smile of his on the old man. “I’m afraid Brock racked up those debts on my behalf. University, you know. I’m happy to represent him now as we pay them off.”

The old man nodded again, apparently satisfied. “Excellent. Well, then, let us discuss the interest that has accrued and the terms to which Lieutenant Parr agreed . . . .”

Shane relaxed a bit and allowed Devon to handle this end of the conversation. He’d know if they were being cheated. Not that Shane expected such. Kellner and Sons had a reputation to maintain as a respectable establishment.

Before long everything was settled. Shane fixed his signature to the papers, hesitating when he reached his surname. He was no longer a Corlisa. He was now Shane bast-Parr—which, translated from the Draconic, meant something like Shane, dependent of the Parr Household. He gritted his teeth as he dipped the quill.

Devon signed beneath him when he was done. A stamp and a seal later, and the business was finished. By the next morrow the brass would be transferred from Shane’s bank to Brock’s creditors.

“Are you still planning to tell Brock tonight?” Devon glanced at him as they stepped out of the building and onto the crowded sidewalk of the Ridge.

“Yes. He can’t stop the transfer at this point.”

“And hopefully, between us, we can talk him out of trying. What about the rest of your brass?”

They started south toward the Docks. “What about it?”

“Well, what are your plans for it?”

Shane shrugged. “I haven’t given it much thought. I’d always meant to pay for an education or commission for Brock’s boys. Dowries for the girls, of course. The rest I was saving for a rainy day.”

“No, I meant—I figured you would look after my nieces and nephews. I hope to do the same; I ought to make enough brass of my own someday. But where do you plan on investing it?”

“It’s already in safe, tidy investments.”

Devon fell silent for a moment. “You, ah, can afford not to play it safe. I mean,” he added hurriedly, “you have the luxury of being able to play with part of your fortune, at least. Three thousand a year in interest—Brock barely takes in four hundred drakes in a year, even with Emma’s dowry.”

“I’m well acquainted with a watchman’s salary, thank you.”

Devon grinned. “Shane, if you would let me invest part of your fortune—say five hundred drakes; that’s a pittance to you—I think I can prove that some risk taking will be worth your while.”

He rolled his eyes. “Firstly, that’s hardly a pittance. Secondly, what do you intend to do with it? Squander it in this new stock exchange you keep panting over?”

“Oh, it is a pittance. You just don’t have the right frame of mind for that fortune of yours.” Devon winked at him. “And as for the stock exchange—yes. I mean to invest it there, but I shan’t squander it. Come now. Don’t you have enough faith in me to risk five hundred drakes?”

“You should be asking your brother this, not me.”

“Nonsense. Even if he agrees to accept your brass, he’ll leave you in charge of it. Besides, I have something else to ask him.”

“Oh?”

Devon linked his arm through Shane’s, pulling him closer as they avoided smacking into a pair of lawyerly types. “I’m going to ask his permission to court you, of course. All right and proper; I don’t want to skulk about like Tammy’s suitor.”

For a moment, Shane was dumbfounded. But he found his voice soon enough. “You little wretch. If you ask—and if Brock graces you with a response—I’ll strangle the pair of you!”

“You’ll do no such thing. Look, we both agree that we need Brock’s blessing. I’m sure you pictured yourself asking him for it—”

“I did! Down the road, when we’re both sure this is what you want.”

“But it really is my responsibility,” Devon continued, unperturbed by the interruption. “And, besides, I need to prove myself to my brother. He knows you’re an adult, even if you are legally his dependent. He doesn’t think of me that way.”

“No. And don’t bother widening your eyes at me—”

Devon laughed. “Should I try batting my eyelashes? No, there’s no point. You’re going to give in regardless.”

-oOo-

Somewhere along the walk to the docks, Shane made up his mind to Devon. It was selfish of him, and devilish convenient—to be the lover of the master’s brother was a sweet situation for a slave. Especially when said brother was good-natured, intelligent and absurdly charming.

Well, he could console himself with two facts: his position in Brock’s household was secure. He didn’t need to use Devon in order to improve it. And Shane would bring far more brass to the companionship. Granted, that brass legally belonged to Brock already. But Brock wouldn’t see it that way.

Besides, Shane was hardly taking advantage of the cub. Apparently Devon had already lost his innocence while he was at University.

On the other hand, Devon would be lowering himself by uniting with a slave. But this wouldn’t be a proper marriage with a proper contract. Dev—it suddenly seemed natural to think of him by his nickname—could back out at any time.

Shane didn’t share these thoughts with Devon. There was no need. By the time he agreed to handing over five hundred drakes for the pup to invest on his behalf, he was sure Dev knew the matter was settled.

And that explained why, as soon as they reached his flat and closed the door behind him, Shane put his mouth on Dev’s and backed him against the wall.

Devon didn’t resist. He moaned instead and wrapped his arms around Shane, opening his mouth to him. Shane slowed down, allowing his tongue to explore at leisure and—no. He couldn’t let things go further than that.

Shane bit Devon’s lower lip, teasing it, and then pulled away.

Devon looked at him through half-closed eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“We need your brother’s blessing, remember?”

He closed his eyes all the way and pulled Shane back to him. “You realize that you won’t get me with child, don’t you? You really can’t ruin me.”

Shane laughed as he pushed off of him. “Nonetheless . . . .”

“Yes, yes.” Dev gave up. “It’s a question of honor. I understand. For both of us, I suppose. I’ll speak to him tonight.”

Shane put a hand on his cheek. His skin felt soft against Shane’s calloused fingers—but the trace of stubble roughened it. It was a delectable combination. “I may not be high in Brock’s good graces tonight. Not after my confession. I doubt you will be either.”

Dev turned his head and kissed the palm of Shane’s hand. “Do you fancy waiting?”

Shane watched a strand of Devon’s hair curl over his fingers and then sighed. “No.”

Link to Part 17

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Brothers of the Watch, Part 15

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

“You well enough, Shane?”

Shane glanced at Brock, considering the question. They’d been walking in silence back down Pike. It was a mostly residential street, shaded by young maples. It tended to be quiet, as it was almost too narrow for carriages or wagons. The one crowded spot was the public well with the little market around it, down where the road widened. But they were only headed as far as Brock’s house—no, not just Brock’s house. Home.

“I am,” he said at last. “I have a shiny new slave tag, after all.” He tapped the bit of engraved metal that now hung around his neck. “I also have an official pass signed by my new master.”

Brock grunted. “Your mongrel cur of a master?”

He bit back a grin. “I don’t think you’re much in favor with Will.”

“He’s got a damned viperous tongue—but most of the brethren agree with him. They all think I betrayed you.”

“The only betrayal, Brock, is your refusal to believe me. I didn’t murder Harris.”

“Even if I did believe you, I still would have had to arrest you.”

“I know.” Shane paused. “If Will is any indication, you’re going to have a devil of a time with the others.”

“I’ll handle it. Meanwhile, at least you’ll be welcomed back with open arms. Even by Will, apparently.”

Shane rolled his eyes. “What do you make of that? Suddenly I’m his best mate?”

“I don’t know that I’m surprised.” Brock scrunched up his forehead. “He’s a loyal bastard when it comes to his fellow watchmen.”

“One of his rare virtues, I suppose.” Shane shook his head a little, trying to shake off the memory from twelve years ago. “Will’s a skilled enough detective, too. I’ll give him that.”

“True. Fuck, I still want him punished—but he’s an asset, no question.”

Shane stopped short.

Brock followed suit. “What’s wrong?”

“Listen to me, mongrel. If you make captain, promise me you won’t go after Will.”

“After him?”

Shane gave him a look. “Don’t try to punish him for what happened twelve years back.”

“You refused to press charges at the time, remember? Hell, you wouldn’t even report him.” Brock folded his arms across his chest. “I can’t go after him now.”

“You could make his life a living hell. And, knowing you, it would all be by the book.”

For a moment, it looked like Brock would object. But that he let out a long-suffering sigh instead. “Very well. I promise. But I need a promise in exchange, Snake Blood.”

“And that is?”

Brock took his time about answering. “I don’t think . . . I don’t think Will intends to pull something like that again.”

“He’s no longer a drunken eighteen year old. And the mates that helped him—they didn’t even make it through cadet-hood.”

“Right. So I don’t think you’re in any danger from him. But if anything were to happen, I need you to tell me. Whether it’s Will or someone else.” Brock hesitated. “And I need you to leave the consequences in my hands.”

Shane felt his face heat up. “Protecting your property?”

Brock stared at him. “Your tongue is as poisonous as Will’s, do you know that?”

“It’s worse, I reckon. But that doesn’t change anything.”

Brock glanced up at the sky before meeting his eyes again. “Look, it’s my responsibility to keep you safe. And if anyone harms you, it’s my right to press charges.”

“The perpetrator would only be fined for damaging your chattel.”

“Regardless, I expect you to tell me, and I expect you to let me take care of it. Do I have your word?”

“My word? What in hell does my word mean to you?”

Brock opened his mouth, but whatever he meant to say died on his lips. He gave a brittle laugh instead and then shook his head. “I’ll tell you something, Shane. I ought to have left you at the temple to become a fucking priest.”

And with that he turned and started back down Pike. He didn’t even glance over his shoulder to see if Shane was following.

-oOo-

“Clouds!” Katie said, pointing up to the sky.

Brock, who was lying on the ground next to her, face up, nodded at the blue sky strewn with puffy, fair weather clouds that looked suspiciously like a mastodon and her youngster. “Yes, those are clouds.”

Katie stared at them a moment longer, but then promptly lost interest. She scrambled to her feet and ran toward the young elm tree in the south-eastern corner of the yard. There were low hanging branches she could swing from—hell, pretty soon she’d be climbing up them. But that day hadn’t come yet. Not quite. Brock pushed himself up and went after her. Nothing wrong with swinging like a monkey as far as he was concerned, but if she dislocated another elbow he would hear it from Emma.

By the time he reached her, she had her hands clasped on the lowest branch—but she wasn’t swinging. She was trying to walk her feet up the trunk instead. Perhaps the day for climbing had arrived after all. None of his other cubs had tried it until they were over two, but she was frighteningly active for her age.

“Going to let her climb?”

Brock swore under his breath and turned to face Shane. This was the second time in as many days that he had allowed someone to sneak up on him. But he could forgive himself, in Shane’s case. The man moved as silently as a lynx in soft snow, and he could keep as still as an Aishling tomb when he was so minded.

“I’m curious to see how far she’ll get.”

Shane nodded. “She won’t do any damage to herself even if she slips. Not at that height, I reckon.” He turned away from his calculations to face Brock, offering up a half-smile. “I’d make for a lousy priest.”

Brock grinned. “You would. Does that mean you’ll promise to report any, ah, incidents, should you return in some capacity to the Watch?”

“It does. You have my word.”

“Thank you.” He paused as Katie lost her grip and fell to the ground.

“Uh-oh,” Brock said. “Are you all right, Katie-bird?”

“Uh-oh,” she repeated. And she didn’t cry. She did, however, give the branch an offended look for daring to drop her. Then she took on an expression of sheer determination as she grabbed the branch again and gave the whole climbing business another try.

Brock grinned, but then his face grew serious as he turned to his friend. “Shane, I want you to know something.”

“Yes?”

“I didn’t stop investigating after I arrested you. Believe me, I wanted it to be anyone but you. But all the evidence—”

“I know.” He nodded at Katie. “She’s like you. And me. She won’t be an academic, nor much of a spinner or seamstress.”

“Look, if I could train her up for the Watch, I would.”

“We can train her to fight when she’s older. And we can train Nance and Alice now. I put my money on Katie, though, for really taking to it.”

Brock stared at him. “To what end? You think I’m going to put a sword or a hatchet in my daughters’ hands?”

Shane took a deep breath. “You remember, as well as I do, the bodies of those girls that Harris killed. I think you want your daughters to be able to fight to defend themselves. Teach them to scream, bite, kick—to use anything at hand for a weapon—in order to get loose and run away.”

He did remember. And, after a moment, he nodded. “You’re right. We can teach them that much. Even Emma ought to see the need for it.” He watched as Katie tried to swing a leg up onto the branch. “Cane might have the makings for a good watchman. But Ian—for all his interest in the military, he’s an academic. Just like Dev.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive. The military needs brains. Send him to University and then, perhaps, he’ll be ready for a commission.”

Brock grunted. “That would be easy enough if money grew on trees.”

“You’re a wealthy man now, Brock. There’s no point in pretending otherwise.”

“I’m not taking your brass to spend on my cubs.”

“What did you think I meant to do with that all that brass? Your cubs are the closest I have to my own.”

“This is not up for discussion.”

To his surprise, Shane shrugged and let it drop. “Very well. Brock, I want to see your notes.”

“On the Harris murder?”

“Yes. Later on today, if possible. After Devon and I return with my things.”

Brock sighed as Katie slipped again, yet remained undaunted. “I’ll gather them up while you’re gone.”

Link to Part 16

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