Jonac is no monster. That’s what I tell myself as I crawl onto my mattress and settle down on my back. Bits of straw poke at me, right through the sack-like linen cover that holds them all together. No matter. I’m used to far worse, thanks to my time in the legion. Any mattress is a luxury there.
Back to Jonac. He would rough a prisoner up, no question. Or stand by and watch as the guards under him did so. And I’m sure he’d whip a prisoner, if the fellow deserved it. But that’s nothing. I grew up with special privileges, thanks to my position as a royal bastard, and even I’ve taken the lash on occasion. Mostly in the legion, of course. I survived.
So that demon spawn companion of mine should be safe enough. Even if Jonac has a whipping in store for him, things won’t go too far. He won’t leave Shoch a cripple. Besides, Shoch seems to have some sense—won’t he cooperate, whatever Jonac asks of him?
He’s skittish, though. I start chewing my lip as that thought nags at me. He seems to expect the worst from people. With good reason, I suppose, considering that someone cut out his tongue.
Jonac isn’t a monster—not to his fellow man. But Shoch ain’t human, exactly. What if Jonac believes Shoch is some sort of threat to the security of Crevlock Tower? What’s to stop him executing Shoch? There’s no law I know of that would protect a Tainted from whatever justice a guard commander deemed necessary. Málaf!
Doesn’t matter. Shoch isn’t a threat—he can’t work his sorcery without his tongue. And Jonac wouldn’t put him down for no reason.
And why in hell am I worried about some demon spawn? One I hardly even know? Why should I care what they do to him? I was half ready to strangle him myself when I first laid eyes on him.
This is ridiculous. I force myself to squint up at the narrow window. Some sunlight is getting in. It’s hard to guess what time it is, though. Mid-morning, probably, assuming my cell is in the eastern part of the tower.
Maybe Shoch knows what part of the tower we’re in—no, I’m not going to keep thinking about him. I refuse to worry about that bloody-eyed devil. So I close my own perfectly normal eyes instead, and try to snatch a few minutes of sleep.
The heavy foot-fall of the guards wakes me up. I blink my eyes open and stare back up at that window. There’s still plenty of sunlight. Good. I was only out for an hour or two.
I push myself to my feet and watch as the guards arrive. There are four this time, and Jonac isn’t with them. But Shoch is.
Did they hurt him? I can’t tell. He’s hunched over as he walks. And he has a blanket wrapped around him. I just stop myself from snorting. Kind of someone to offer him that much.
Well, he’s back at least. And still breathing. I feel my shoulders sag in relief. He might be a bloody-eyed devil, but he’s my only steady company, damn it.
The guards unlock our cell and escort Shoch back inside. They still avoid any contact with him, I notice. Before they leave and lock us up again, Guardsman Deferential catches my eye. He stammers an apology for any inconvenience on my part and promises fresh water soon.
“Thank you,” I tell him, summoning up a smile. “That would be much appreciated.”
He’s pleased by my attention—there are advantages to being even an illegitimate member of the royal family. But he doesn’t stick around. All four guards march out of our little part of Crevlock Tower. Well, at least they were good enough to replenish and rekindle the oil lamp before leaving. Though I’ll wager that’s more for their benefit than ours.
I turn to my companion, who’s back to huddling in his corner. “You all right, Shoch?”
His eyes meet mine. Fuck, they’re almost glowing in this light.
“Stop staring at me like that!” I want to look away, but I won’t see his response if I do. “Are you all right or aren’t you?”
I roll my eyes. “That’s not an answer.”
He lets out another one of those harsh sighs of his and pushes himself to his feet. Then he drops the new blanket—there’s blood smeared on it—and raises his tunic.
There are five fresh lashes on his back. And plenty of old scars to match.
I let out a sigh of my own. “Jonac?”
He turns around, letting his tunic fall back into place. Then he nods.
“Did you do something to deserve it?”
That earns me another shrug, along with a movement of his hand that seems to mean maybe—or maybe not.
“Have you cast any spells here in Crevlock Tower? Or harmed anyone?”
Shoch answers with an emphatic shake of his head.
“All right.” I have no idea if he’s telling the truth, but for now I’ll take him at his word. “Take off your tunic and lie down. On your stomach, obviously. Hopefully the fresh water will come soon—we’ll clean you up when it does.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“Well?” I fold my arms across my chest. “What are you waiting for?”
He makes a series of gestures. It takes me a minute or two, but then I work it out. “Oh. I’m going to have to touch you to clean off the wounds? Is that what you’re saying?”
He’s right. No matter how flexible he is, he’ll need help with his back. Fuck. I really don’t want to touch him.
“Shoch, is your skin—is it poison to me? Is it going to infect me with some demon curse?”
All he does is hold out his hand.
I stare down at it, recognizing the challenge for what it is.
Shoch just keeps his hand outstretched.
“Fine.” I clasp it in mine.
I feel a shock—a light shock, I mean. Like if the linen of your shirt or the wool of your cloak rubs the wrong way. But nothing else happens. His skin is a little rough, like mine is. And his hand is warm. Warmer than mine. But it doesn’t feel unnatural. I know in my gut that I’m not poisoned or infected.
“There.” I release his hand. “Now will you go lie down?”
He smiles at that. It’s a small, slow smile, but I think it’s genuine. Then he pulls off his tunic, steps over to his mattress, and finally collapses down on top of it.