I don’t close my eyes, even as the cell grows dark. I just sit on my mattress, my back up against the wall, wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. And what, exactly, I’m supposed to do with my new pet once I get out of Crevlock Tower.
Assuming I can pull enough strings to get him out with me. But if he really hasn’t harmed anyone here—well, that’s something.
He could be a spy. That would explain what he’s doing here in the first place. But then why not execute him?
Maybe Jonac wants information from him first. If so, though, he’s not doing much to get it. Shoch has enough courage, I think, to withstand a few lashes. And while Jonac ain’t a cruel man, I think he’d use more than a whip to force a Tainted to spill his guts.
I set those thoughts aside as two guards come by with supper for me and thin gruel for Shoch. They bow to me and keep their distance from the demon spawn. Once they’re gone, I divvy up some of my meat and bread. Shoch accepts them with a wary eye.
He’s afraid of me again. Can’t say I blame him—that’s twice now that I’ve come close to strangling him.
An hour passes, maybe more. Another guard comes to trim and replenish the oil lamp. This new fellow doesn’t seem inclined to chat, which is fine. I’ve got enough on my mind.
Shoch hasn’t fallen asleep yet. He’s lying on his mattress, stiff and tense. His eyes are pinned to my face, and he looks ready to spring up in case I attack him.
I try to soften my gaze. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
He just snorts.
“I mean it, Shoch. Look, I don’t think my father will really prosecute me. So I won’t be stuck here for long. And when I leave, I’m taking you with me.”
There’s a strange expression in his eyes—part frightened, part hopeful and part suspicious. He gives me this questioning shrug.
“What do I want with you?” I know exactly what he’s worried about. It’s written on his face. “Stop being so skittish. I’m no rapist, remember? And I don’t expect any . . . special favors from you.”
He starts miming.
“Slow down, pet. I don’t understand—oh. Why am I helping you, then?”
I shake my head at him. “Why do I have to want something from you? You’re a stray who needs a home. I’ve got one to give. That’s all.”
He doesn’t believe me.
“Shoch—” I stop and roll my eyes. “You’re not for fucking. You’ve made that clear. I don’t know whether you don’t care for me or you don’t care for men, but it don’t matter—”
Now he’s shaking his head at me. Violently. And miming again.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Come over here and spell it out into my hand.”
He obeys. Not right away, but after a moment’s consideration he gets up and takes a seat at my side. I offer up my palm. He starts tracing letters onto it.
“You don’t care for anyone?” It seems important to him that I know this. “What, are you some sort of monk?”
He gives me a half nod.
“Close enough to a monk? All right.” I don’t believe him, though. I can’t imagine that Rokofar has orders of chaste, celibate brothers and sisters—not the way we do.
I’ll bet someone raped him once and turned him off to the whole business of fucking. Maybe it was one of our soldiers. No, they don’t like to touch him if they can help it. Well, maybe it happened back in Rokofar.
I put a friendly arm over his shoulder. He stiffens, but doesn’t jump away. “Listen. I don’t want anything from you but the loyalty and obedience of a servant, all right? And that’s how I’ll pass you off—as some sort of manservant, I suppose, so I can keep an eye on you.”
My brother has a manservant. There’s nothing between them—nothing apart from friendship and affection, I mean. Renic just functions as half-valet and half-secretary. Why can’t Shoch play the same role for me?
He jostles me out of my thoughts by tracing letters on my palm again.
“How am I going to get you out of Crevlock Tower? That’s, ah, a good question, actually.” I pause to chew on my lip. “You weren’t killed on sight, obviously, and no one’s executed you yet. Hell, Jonac hasn’t done anything worse than add a few stripes to your back.”
Shoch gives me a look of disbelief and then points to his mouth.
“Oh, right. Someone cut your tongue out. Was that Jonac?”
“I should have known. But you know what? I’d have done the same in his shoes.”
His eyes narrow at me.
“What? I wouldn’t want to kill you out of hand, but I wouldn’t want to risk you speaking any words of power either.”
My pet’s not happy with that, but he doesn’t waste more time glaring at me. He goes straight back to spelling out words on my palm instead, pausing here and there to mime something. He’s telling me how he got here, I realize.
“All right, slow down—you were sent here from Rokofar. You had to sneak across our border. So you are a spy?”
He shakes his head and starts miming again.
“You were chasing someone? Someone from Rokofar? Oh, you were trying to apprehend an escaped prisoner?”
Shoch hesitates. So that’s not the whole story. I’m not surprised; he doesn’t strike me as the sort of man you’d send out on a mission like that. He’s no warrior. He is a sorcerer, though. So maybe he was trying to apprehend this person with magic, not a sword. Still, he couldn’t have been on his own. He must have had some muscle with him.
“Well?” I nudge him. “Care to elaborate?”
He shakes his head again, letting me know that’s all he’s willing to say . . . for now.
I could order him to tell me more. He might even obey me. But my gut tells me that I’ll get more out of him in the long run if I leave it be for now. So I treat him to an exasperated smile instead, and then ruffle his hair. “Go get some sleep, pet.”
He looks surprised by the gesture, but he doesn’t recoil. And, at length, he nods. I watch him stand up and walk gingerly back to his mattress, mindful of those stripes on his back.
I’ll say this much: I’ve probably gotten more out of him than Jonac has. And—oh, fuck me. That’s why Jonac put me here! In a cell with his Tainted prisoner, I mean. He knows I have a soft spot for strays. Even demonic strays, apparently. He was counting on the fact that my offhand fondness for Shoch would carry more weight than any whip or threats.
I roll my eyes and lean my head back against the wall. Come morning, Jonac and I are going to have a little talk. One way or another, I’ll see to that.