Someone is massaging my scalp. I’m only vaguely awake, but I like the feel of those fingers threading my hair. Is this some sort of dream? I don’t think so. I’ve never dreamed like this before. My wyvern has never been calm enough to let me dream like this.
I open my eyes. Aric winks at me from the other side of the bed. No, that makes him sound far away. He’s not. He’s closer than I meant him to be. And . . . and I don’t mind that nearness. And I don’t mind the way he’s stretching his good arm out to reach me. And I don’t mind the weight of his hand.
How do I say the same thing back? I could just point at him and smile. He’d understand. But I want the actual words, without having to trace letters. Tracing would interrupt the massage.
Aric frowns. “What’s wrong? Do you want me to stop?”
I shake my head and grunt, frustrated that I can’t explain.
“All right, all right. I won’t.”
He doesn’t. He gives me time to think instead.
I muster a smile and rub my thumb against my other four fingers. In Rokto-xar, that’s a common symbol for something happy or good, as if you rubbed up a little luck or coin or spice.
Apparently it doesn’t mean anything in Tantzil. “What is that? Hunger? Are you hungry?”
I roll my eyes and then force myself to smile wider.
“Oh, happy? Good?”
Now he has it. Next, I ball both my hands into fists, put them together and then burst them apart again.
My master looks confused at first, but then he grins. “Was that supposed to be a sunburst?”
He crinkles his brow. “Good morning to me too? Is that what you’re trying to mime?”
Yes. I can’t say that out loud, but I smile in relief.
He lets go of me in order to repeat the same mime. He has to do it one handed, but it serves. “There. I’ll remember that. We’re getting better at this, Shoch.”
I crane my neck toward him, like a cat. He laughs and resumes the massage.
Only for a few minutes, though. Then he wrinkles his nose and makes a face. “We both need a bath.”
He has a point. I make a face too—I don’t want this to end yet—but then I disentangle myself from him and climb out of bed. In Rokto-xar I had servants to draw baths. But I’ll manage, providing someone supplies buckets of water and pots to heat them in. And a tub, of course.
We’ll need fresh bandages too. It’s past time to redress Aric’s wounds.
I shake my head and scoff a little. I thought, when the Bonshev captured me, that I was facing torture and some sort of cruel death. The stake, like as not. Servitude never occurred to me.
If anyone had asked for my preference when they first brought me to this tower, I’d have told them that I’d sooner burn to death a hundred times than serve a Bonshev. And most of that would have been bravado, but some part of it would have been real.
But now I can stand the servitude. Aric has royal blood. The blood of Tantzi royalty, but that still counts. Even after centuries of their idiot Sages it still counts. And he’s a priest. He might be a prophet too, if his vision was a true one. The gods don’t usually choose a priest for a prophet, but it has been known to happen. Put all that together and—well, his station is higher than any sorcerer’s.
So there’s no shame in serving him. Is that why I feel so—I’m not sure what the word is. Satisfied? Content?
I shouldn’t be either. I’m still at the mercy of these Bonshev. I still don’t know for certain that Aric can protect me from the worst of his people. And even if he can, he can’t stop my my demon from pulsing inside me. From throbbing inside my head. From destroying me.
No, not demon. Aric says we should think of them only as wyverns. In Rokto-xar we always knew that they were wyverns,and we sometimes refer to them as such. But that never made them seem less demonic.
It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to think about any of this—not right now. There’s work to be done.
“We set out in one week, Aric.” His Highness takes the chair from the desk, turns it around, and straddles it so that he can rest his arms against the back of it. “We need to be in Fallpoint in plenty of time for me to show my face at the Lafplec festival.”
“One week?” My master leans back against the wall, tugging me along with him.
We’re sitting up on the bed—or, well, we were sitting up a moment ago. Is this acceptable? Lounging like this in front of the prince?
It must be, because His Highness doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. No, he goes right on talking about the journey and what things will be like back in Fallpoint.
And me—Aric is still tugging at me. He doesn’t stop until his good arm is around me and I’m halfway tucked into the crook of his shoulder.
He smells like our Khokova bath oil. It’s a powerful scent, but clean and bracing. I suppose I smell of the stuff too; we each took a turn in the tub. And we acquired fresh tunics, thank the gods. Sturdy linen tunics that must have been intended for the guards.
But I shouldn’t be basking in the scent of his skin or the coarse feel of the linen. I should be chastising him for this . . . this nearness.
No one in Rokto-xar would dare touch a sorcerer like this. No one would dare to touch me at all—not without my explicit permission. And these Bonshev don’t want their skin against mine. I still remember the rough feel of thick leather gloves. Gloves the guards wore when they pinned me down so that their commander could take a knife to my mouth . . . .
“Shh.” Aric plants a kiss on the top of my head. “Relax, pet.”
I turn my face up toward his.
He cocks his head at me. I understand that—he’s asking if this closeness is acceptable.
Is it? I’m not sure, so I shrug.
Aric takes that for consent—or at least partial consent. He loosens his hold, but only a little. Then he turns back to his brother. “I understand that, Ruv. But what about court?”
His Highness must have been expecting that question. “You won’t have to show your face—not now. Look, Father transferred you to my custody. None of your heroics here have changed that fact. So you’re still a prisoner.”
“And Shoch? You don’t think Father’s going to want to parade a Tainted around? Prove that we can tame them?”
“Oh, he will.” His Highness meets my eyes. “I apologize for that, Shocha.”
I shrug again.
“Anyway—you know the assumptions Father will make, Aric. He’ll take it for granted that Shocha will stay glued to your side.”
Aric grips my shoulder. Hard. I glance up at him, but he’s staring at his brother.
“Ruv, Father is still—he’s still our father, isn’t he?”
His Highness doesn’t answer. Not right away. He takes a deep breath instead, as if he needs to steady himself. “He’s—he’s growing difficult.”
“He was always difficult.” Aric snorts. “He could always be a stubborn, irrational bastard. But he was always fair too.”
“He’s still fair. It just . . . takes him longer to reason through things.”
“I figured that much out on my own. He still hasn’t reasoned his way to understanding that he can’t imprison priests for performing their duties.”
“Aric—” Ruvan sighs as he breaks off. He looks away.
My master looks down at me and then back up at his brother. But he doesn’t say anything. He just waits.
His Highness finally turns back to us. But there’s a strange expression in his eyes—an unlikely combination of bitterness and apology. “You’re not the only priest he’s had arrested, Aric. But right now, you’re the only one who might escape a trial.”