The water comes by and by. Some junior guard removes our chamber pot, empties it somewhere or other, and returns it. Shoch has been dozing, but he wakes up enough to watch all this. He snorts and cocks an eyebrow at me. I think he believes that all this consideration is due to my rank.
What normally happens, then? Do they leave prisoners half-dying of thirst? And let them piss and shit in the corners of their cells?
I can’t worry about that now. Time to see to his wounds.
Neither of us has much fabric to spare, so I rip up Shoch’s tunic. I dampen part and use it to clean the blood off his back. The rest is for makeshift bandages. Once I’m done patching him up, I cover him with both blankets—the one he started with, plus the one Jonac gave him after the whipping.
Shoch grunts a little, but mostly keeps silent. But I catch him staring at me once I’m done and back to sitting cross-legged on my own mattress.
“What is it, Shoch?”
He pushes himself up a little, points at me and then waves his hand in a circle.
All right, that’s an easy one. “Why am I here? In Crevlock Tower?”
I don’t owe this Tainted any information. And I don’t even know if it’s an innocent, friendly question.
“Tell me something first. Did Jonac ask you to spy on me? Does he want you to play on my sympathy? Get closer to me in the hopes that I’ll confide in you? Maybe let slip some family secrets?”
Shoch just stares.
“He’s ambitious, Jonac is. I don’t think he’s the spying type—but I can’t be sure.”
He keeps staring.
“This is a yes or no question, Shoch. Just nod or shake your head.”
“If you tell me the truth now, I won’t be angry. If I find out something different later . . . .” I don’t speak the threat out loud. No need.
Now he gives me this frustrated shrug.
“Look, Shoch, it’s one or the other.”
But he shakes his head again, props himself up on one arm, points at me with his free hand, and then—I don’t know how to describe it. He changes his whole expression.
“Shocha, I have no idea . . . oh.” I understand now: the little bastard is imitating me. He’s wearing this high and mighty look. And he keeps shaking his head, except now he’s waving a finger too.
I smile a little. I can’t help it. Not that his impression is accurate. I do not look like that! Still, I have to admire the effort. “You’re saying I won’t believe you? If you say no, I mean?”
“Shoch, I’ll—if the answer is no, fine. I promise to believe you.”
He nods again.
“So that means the answer is no? Jonac didn’t ask you to spy on me?”
He doesn’t seem to know whether to nod or shake his head—and I grin at his confusion. “Nod yes to confirm that Jonac did not ask you to spy on me.”
He lets out a little sigh of relief and nods.
“Then what did Jonac want with you?”
Shoch just narrows his eyes and points at me again.
“Oh. You asked me a question first, huh?”
I give him my best high and mighty look—a better one than he pulled off when he was imitating me. “I outrank you, remember? My questions take precedence.”
He glares at me and lets himself collapse back down on the mattress, as if he’s done with me.
“I’m teasing, Shoch.” I wink at him. “Well, I do outrank you, but I’ll condescend enough to answer your question first.”
He rolls his eyes, props himself back up and waits for my answer.
“In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m part of the royal family.”
Ah. Judging by his expression, he hadn’t figured that out. He must have thought I was some random nobleman.
“I’m the bastard son of His Majesty. His first born, for what it’s worth. But I’m not in line for the throne, which is fine with me.”
Shoch still looks startled. And a little awed. No, not awed. I think he’s more intimidated—like he’s just realizing how far above him I am, at least by my people’s standards.
“This is where things get complicated: I’m also a priest. The priestly caste is matrilineal for us; it goes through the mother’s line. So I’m a priest, but my half-brother—the crown prince—isn’t. Are you following?”
He shakes his head and starts miming . . . something. This time I have no idea what he’s trying to convey. Shoch seems to understand that, because he leans off of his mattress, looking for more dust and grime to spell out the words in.
“No!” I get up and walk over to him. “We just cleaned you up.”
He stares up at me. I take a seat right on the mattress edge—only to have him scramble to his feet. Damn it! He probably just undid all the bandages.
“Shoch, what is the matter with you?”
The idiot Tainted just stands there looking frightened. Then he takes a step away from me.
I roll my eyes, but keep my tone gentle. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. I just want you to . . . Shoch, get back here and I’ll show you.”
His shoulders relax—a bit, at least. He steps forward, takes one of the blankets and wraps it back around himself. Then he seats himself at my side.
“You should lie down again. Let me take another look at your back—”
But he shakes his head.
“All right. Here, give me your hand.”
He holds it out to me. He’s tentative about it, and ready to snatch it back, but at least he’s giving me a chance.
“Here.” I take his forefinger and run it along my other palm. “You can spell the words out against my hand, see? Forget about the dirt.”
Shoch stares down at my palm. At length, though, he nods and starts ‘writing’ on it.
“No—no priests? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
He nods again.
“Oh. You think that just because my people follow the Sages, and mostly don’t worship the gods anymore, that we don’t have priests?”
“No, we still have priests. A few of us still have gods. But even if we didn’t—look, someone has to see to the rituals, right? No one wants to be married or buried without a priest at hand. Even the Sages understood that.”
“So I’m a priest. I’m not generally at hand for marriages—but, as a soldier, I’ve done more than my share of burial rites. And that’s how I ended up crossing my father.”
Shocha’s eyes widen. He grabs my hand and starts tracing letters on my palm again.
“Yes, my father put me here. Well, sort of. My brother chose Crevlock Tower. But my father gave the order to arrest me in the first place.”
More scratching on my palm. I snort a little as I spell out the words.
“Why would my father arrest a priest for performing his duties?” I treat Shoch to a sour smile. “As near as my brother and I can figure, the man has lost his mind.”