There’s a hush in the yard. Shoch has the bowl of fresh chicken blood in his hands. He’s just staring down into it. If he’s working any sorcery, it doesn’t show.
I breathe in deep to stop myself from fidgeting. At least we didn’t have to oversee the slaughter—one of Jonac’s men handled it. We’ve enough on our plates without trying to mimic the skill of a butcher. Which just serves to remind me that I’ve never butchered any animal, and yet I’ll be slitting the throat of some poor burro just a few minutes from now.
Never mind that. I can’t think about that yet.
Meanwhile, I have no idea what this ‘bonding’ between Shoch and Jonac actually entails. Neither does Jonac, I’ll wager. I glance over at him. He’s standing tall and erect, his face carefully neutral. I can’t believe he’s putting himself at the mercy of Shoch’s magic. The man has guts.
But it’s our only chance at stopping this demon. Or part of our only chance, anyway. This bond between them has to work so that Jonac can speak the words of power for Shoch. Then the sacrifice has to work to lure the demon to us. Then the actual words of power—I think they come more from Shoch’s demonic half than from Shoch himself—have to be strong enough to cast the demon back beyond the barrier.
That’s a lot of ifs. Can’t say I like our odds.
But I don’t say anything as Shoch nods in satisfaction and puts the bowl of chicken blood down on the ground. I don’t say anything as he sits, cross-legged, in front of it. Or when he indicates that Jonac should do the same, which he does. No, I hold my tongue until Shoch looks at me and points at my dagger.
He points at the dagger again and then at himself.
I narrow my eyes at him. “What do you need it for?”
He points at the middle finger on his left hand and pretends to prick it, as if he were holding a needle.
“You want just a pin-prick, pet?”
He nods again and then points to Jonac.
I look to my brother. He gives me a half-hearted shrug. We’ve come this far, I suppose.
“All right, Shoch. But if you want just a prick of blood, let me do it.”
Shoch doesn’t argue, so I assume that’s acceptable. I step over to him and pierce his finger, gentle as I can. A dagger ain’t as delicate as a needle, obviously. But I do a decent enough job of it. There are a few drops of blood on the tip of his finger now, which he lets fall into the bowl.
I turn to Jonac. He holds up the middle finger of his left hand. I prick that too—again, as gently as I can—and then he shakes the blood into the bowl as well.
Shoch looks straight at Jonac. Then he reaches for my free hand and traces one word: temporary.
“Are you talking about the bond with Jonac, pet? It’s only temporary?”
I think that was meant to mollify Jonac—but it don’t look as if his mind’s been set at ease. He nods his understanding regardless, though.
That seems to satisfy Shoch. He waves me away, so I wipe the dagger off against my tunic, sheathe it—Jonac fond me a proper sheathe—and step back into my place. We’re all standing watch over these two: me, Ruvan and Gael. Plus a larger circle of Jonac’s men a few steps behind us. The rest of the guards are protecting the prisoners, who are all on the first floor of the tower now. Less ground to cover.
Shoch stares down into the bowl again. Then he closes his eyes and starts moving his lips. That only lasts for a moment, though, before he opens them again. He looks frustrated.
I can guess what happened. Without a full tongue—well, it’s probably hard to even mouth words. I’m sorry for him. I am. But there’s still a part of me that’s relieved. Who knows what sort of sorcery Shoch can do when he has a tongue in his head? It’ll be far easier to look after him if he’s cut off from it.
Well, minus ceremonies like this.
He takes a deep breath now and then raises the bowl to his lips. I watch as he gulps down half of it without even cringing. Málaf, how can he stomach that? And why is he so used to drinking blood?
There’s more bile in my throat now. Drinking blood—we never did anything like that here, as far as I know. Even back in the time of the sacrifices. No, the blood was always given back to the gods. Usually by pouring it into the earth, in a spot set apart for that purpose. Hell, we still do that today with the blood of the animals we eat.
I glance at Gael. His face is turning green. Even greener even than mine, probably. I look to my brother next, but I can’t read him. He’s wearing that dispassionate court-face of his.
As for Jonac—his face isn’t neutral any longer. Not as he takes the bowl from Shoch and forces himself to drink down the other half. Sages, I’ve never admired the man more.
I start to relax, thinking the worst of this little ceremony is over. But Shoch proves me wrong.
He’s staring at Jonac now. And his eyes—Shoch’s eyes, I mean—are glinting like a glass of claret caught in candlelight. He takes the bowl from Jonac and sets it down again. Then he reaches over and grabs the man’s cheeks.
Jonac is too shocked to stop him. He’s sitting there with a look of morbid fascination on his face.
Sages, I’m holding my breath. Why? I force the air in and out again—but my nose twitches. There’s a sickly sweet scent in the air, emanating from Shoch. Holy wood. Shoch smells like holy wood.
He pulls Jonac’s face close and breathes on him—no, into him. Their lips aren’t touching, but Shoch is breathing into Jonac’s mouth. I swear I can almost see the breath leave my pet and enter Jonac.
And Jonac . . . he wants to recoil. It’s written all over his face now. But he doesn’t. He stays still until Shoch releases him. Then Shoch turns to me and points toward the altar.
Right. Now it’s time to do my part.