I stare at my brother. “Crevlock Tower was a temple once?”
“No.” He shakes his head and then pauses to push his hair out of his face again. “Veshnic’s temple stood here before Crevlock Tower. I think it was torn down to make the tower.”
“That’s what I meant. There was a temple here before the tower.”
“And a temple in the old days . . . fuck.” I think about what that means. “There would have been blood sacrifices back then. Including human sacrifice. I don’t know that Veshnic actually wanted them, but—”
Jonac grunts, cutting me off. “I’m sure they took place here.”
“Right.” I don’t take my eyes off my brother. “Why do you know this? That the temple was here, I mean.”
He shrugs. “Just one of those pointless facts my tutors crammed into my brain. You know, while you got to train with your fists and your sword all day.”
I bite back a grin—somehow he manages to sound teasing and bitter at the same time. “I had regular lessons too. I had to learn how to be a priest, remember?”
“No, you were born a priest. You had to learn how to carry out your duties.”
“Brat.” I toss him a fond look. “You knew what I meant. Anyway, I had tutors same as you. And you’d think I’d have learned about this—this Crevlock Tower bit—me being a priest and all.”
Shocha disentangles himself from Gael a little so he can start miming. He points to the ceiling, the walls—all around him. Then he pretends to be digging.
“Oh. How are we going to dig here?” I turn back to my brother. “He’s got a point, Ruvan. Is our father going to let you just tear this tower down?”
His face darkens. Unless that’s a trick of the light, but I don’t think so. “I’ll handle our father. Meanwhile—you should get more rest, Aric. I know Shocha will want to stay and look after you, but the rest of us will leave you be for a while.”
With that, he stands up and nods—first to Gael and Jonac, then to the two guards by the fireplace. They move to follow him out of the room.
They all turn back to me. “Jonac, hold up a moment.”
He nods. The rest of them depart. There’s still a guard at the door, though. And Shoch—well, Shoch just stands there looking uncertain.
“Take a seat, pet.” I nod to the chair by the bed.
Shoch pauses to glare at Jonac, but then he obeys me.
I turn to Jonac. “Thank you for objecting to the blood sacrifices.” I know how ambitious he is. It must have cost him something to disagree with the crown prince. Unless he knows that Ruvan will think more of him for that, not less. How much has he guessed about my brother?
“What did you expect me to do?” He narrows his eyes at me. “My parents defied their people and their gods to follow the Sages. You know what it did to me to drink that chicken blood? To watch you sacrifice that burro?”
“No.” I swallow. “No, but I can guess. But you went along with it.”
“We all did. But I’m through now. I’m through betraying my parents’ memory. Whatever happens with these demons, I won’t just stand by and watch my fellow Bonshev revert to spilling blood on altars.”
Those dark eyes of his soften. So do the hard lines of his face. I’m almost positive that’s not a trick of the light. “His Highness is right. You should get some rest.”
“I will. We’ll speak again soon.”
“Yes.” He turns on his heel—without even a glance at Shoch—and stalks out of the room.
I shake my head a little and look at Shoch. “So the barrier is failing, is it? That’s what you and my brother talked about while I was lying here, knocked out from my injuries?”
“Well, not talked. Not on your part. I mean—fuck, you know what I mean.”
Shoch moves the chair closer, so he can reach over and grip my hand.
I smile at the feel of those gaunt fingers clasped with mine. “You’re all skin and bones. We’ve got to fatten you up.”
That earns me a smile in return.
“Real food, though. Not chicken blood.”
Shoch snorts at that and then smacks my shoulder with his free hand—the shoulder that’s not all clawed up, that is.
I try to bite back my grin. “Behave, pet. No smacking your master.”
He smacks me again for good measure.
All right, I don’t bother to stop myself from laughing. But the moment doesn’t last for long. There’s too much weighing on us.
“So the barrier. We will find a way to fix it.”
Shoch starts miming. He starts miming a priest making a sacrifice.
“Yes, I know your people have been—how do you say it? Feeding the barrier? Preserving it, maybe? Preserving it through blood. I don’t care. We’ll rebuild it or strengthen it some other way.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“No, I don’t know how yet. But we’ll find a way, even if we have to excavate every ancient temple in Tantzil. But no blood sacrifices, Shoch. Even if one of those wyverns is bearing down on us again.”
He tightens his grip on my hand. Then he moves his other hand to start miming, but I shake my head. I already know what he’s getting at.
“No, Shoch. I’m not going to change my mind about that. And I don’t care what my brother says—he’ll come around.”
I get a look of blatant disbelief for my trouble. And then he pretends to check me for a fever.
“Very funny. You’ll see, though.”
He doesn’t scoff this time. He just—I’m not sure how to describe it. He paints this expression on his face, as if he’s determined to take care of his poor, delirious master.
“All right. Nothing I say is going to convince you—and we’re both tired. Listen, you don’t have to look after my sorry arse right now. I’ll live.”
Shoch doesn’t move. That’s his answer, I suppose.
“You’re going to stay? Come here, then.” I tug him toward me. “You shouldn’t be trying to sleep in a chair.”
“Look, there’s plenty of room.” I let go of him and cautiously shift myself over. “See? No untoward advances. I promise.”
But he shakes his head to let me know that’s not what he’s worried about. Then he points to the gashes on my shoulder.
“Oh. Don’t worry. You won’t jostle me.”
Shoch lets out this long suffering sigh. But there’s still that affection in his eyes. He slips off those worn shoes of his—I’ve got to get him properly clothed and shod—and lies down on the bed.
He keeps outside of the covers, I notice. And as far from me as possible. So he doesn’t quite trust me yet—what, does he think he’s irresistible? Maybe. And he might have a point. Never thought I’d say this about a Tainted, but he’s got a certain something.
“Shoch, I do know how to take no for an answer.”
He smiles a little at that. But he makes a sad face right afterward and puts a fist to his heart. Then he points at me.
“Ah, I’m not sure what that means. Are you professing your undying love for me?”
He gives me a mock-exasperated look. But then he shakes his head and transforms his expression into something that looks half-contrite and half-sympathetic.
“You’re sorry? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
The answer calls for spelling, it seems, not miming. He takes my hand and starts tracing his letters.
“You’re sorry that—that I live now?” I frown, trying to keep up with him. “Sorry that . . . that I can’t just live out my life following my sages?”
He nods again.
“Shoch . . . .” Fuck. He grew up knowing how bad off we all are. And he would have spared me from learning the same, if it had been within his power.
Well, that’s true friendship, I suppose. And I’m grateful for it.
I close my fingers around his again. “You should sleep, pet.”
He grips my hand. Tight, but only for a minute. Then he closes his eyes and lets his grip slacken.
Good. He’s earned his sleep. But I stay awake for a long while, staring up at Jonac’s ceiling and trying to remember how the world looked before I knew so much about Rokofar and their sacrifices. Before I knew that they’re trying their damnedest to preserve the barrier, even if they’re going about it all wrong.
Before I knew that, right now, we don’t have a better plan.