“Who? Who are the other priests, Ruv?” My master tightens his grip on my shoulder, but he’s still looking at his brother. “Who are they and why the fuck did Father arrest them?”
“Aric, you’re going to snap Shocha’s arm off if you’re not careful.”
I tense. I wasn’t complaining. And, much as I appreciate His Highness’s concern, I don’t need him to protect me from Aric.
But Aric seems to disagree. He tears his eyes off of his brother long enough to glance down at me again. Then he lets go of my shoulder and starts rubbing it instead. “Sorry, pet. I didn’t realize I was doing that. I’m an idiot.”
He is, but not because of this. Nonetheless, I nod in agreement.
Aric lets out a surprised laugh and kisses the top of my head.
My face flushes—I can feel it heating up. I don’t know why, though. And it’s not that I’m naive. My master is an attractive man, especially for those who like the Tantzi style. The tussled,dirty blond hair and the warm hazel eyes must win him plenty of admirers. But I’m not one of them. Not like that. So I shouldn’t be reacting the way I imagine his flirts and lovers do.
I swallow. My stomach twists at the thought of how many lovers he must have had by now. Should I care? No. I’m the one he called his spouse. The others don’t matter. So why am I suddenly balling my hands into fists?
Perhaps because of the way he described our supposed marriage. Or the closest thing he would ever have to a marriage. He didn’t seem to expect intimate relations after he was married anyway—not with the one he was married to. So now that I’m a spouse of sorts to him, he must intend to keep other lovers on the side. Lovers I would happily send to Rokto-xar as sacrifices.
I glance up at Aric. He doesn’t notice my confusion—or any murderous thoughts on my part. He’s too busy interrogating his brother.
“Which priests, Ruv? I know you know.”
“The four heads of the Crevcara colleges.”
“What? What the fuck for?”
“Heresy! That charge don’t exist anymore. It hasn’t since the old temples stood.”
“Heresy against the Sages, Aric.”
Against the Sages? I uncurl my fists and try to concentrate on the matter at hand. I didn’t know it was possible to commit heresy against the Sages—there were so many, with all different ideas about right conduct and right living. From what I understand, most of them sat around arguing with each other all day.
Apparently Aric didn’t know this was possible either. “What? How does that even make sense?”
His Highness pauses to push his hair out of his face. Then he embarks on some long winded explanation.
But I don’t pay attention. My brain is thinking back on the entire conversation so far, and getting stuck on the name of their priestly colleges: Crevcara. No, Krevkara—that’s how it would be spelled in the old tongue.
I wait until His Highness pauses for breath. Then I tug on Aric’s tunic.
“What is it, Shoch?” He spares me a fond look as he offers up his hand so I can trace my letters onto his palm.
It takes a few minutes—I want to get the wording right.
“What are the Crevcara colleges?” Aric repeats.
Right. I nod.
“Not real colleges. Not real buildings, I mean. They’re just—how do I explain this? They’re different schools of thought regarding a priest’s duties.”
That doesn’t cover everything I want to know, so I keep tracing.
“Uh, I don’t understand. Are you asking me what Crevcara means?”
No. I already know what it means. Why can’t I trace these letters faster? Why does it take so long to get what I want to say across?
“It’s from the old tongue, Shocha,” His Highness says. “Krev means knowledge. The ‘cara’ probably comes from ‘karav’ for light.”
I shake my head. These two both have royal blood. One of them is a priest. How can their knowledge of the old tongue be so thin? I bite my lip and start tracing my letters on my master’s palm again.
“What are you trying to say?” Aric stares at my fingers. “Krevkara is a single term?”
Now he’s following me. I keep tracing.
“A verb? That’s not—”
I hold a finger up to stop him from interrupting me.
“All right, pet. All right. Keep making your letters.” He watches as I comply. “It means—it means to lock up knowledge? Or to seal knowledge away?”
His Highness stares at both of us. “Hold up. Just a moment, Shocha. Are you saying the name for the colleges is the same as the name for this tower?”
“Crevlock,” Aric says. “Wait, where does that name come from?”
“The vernacular. Our trade tongue, I mean—at least the ‘lock’ part.”
“And the ‘crev’ part is from the old tongue?”
His Highness shrugs. “I’m not sure. But if it is, then Shocha’s right. Crevlock is just a corrupted form of Krevkara.”
Aric turns back to me. “I don’t understand. Never mind the tower—why would priestly colleges have a name that means sealing knowledge away?”
They really are ignorant of their history, these Bonshev. I keep tracing.
“Well?” His Highness asks.
“Uh, Shoch says that priests were charged with guarding their knowledge. It was supposed to be kept secret from the masses. Priests are intercessors with the gods, he says. Not teachers.”
“Interesting. That must have been another point of contention between the Sages and the priests—”
I stop listening again. To them, this is just a history lesson. I know it means more than that, but I don’t know what yet. And until I do, they won’t pay the name of this tower any more attention.
“Anyway, back to the point,” Aric says. “Father can’t do this to these priests. Or to any priests. We have to talk some sense into him!”
“What do you think I’ve been trying to do? Look, I got him to back down as far as you’re concerned—”
“Well maybe you shouldn’t have! If he’s going to send these other four to trial, why should I get off? Just because I’m his bastard?”
Wait, what is he saying? I start tracing against his palm again, taking extra care with each letter.
“I can’t risk defying my father?” Aric frowns. “I have something more important to do than worry about these four priests?”
“Shocha’s right, Aric. Let me worry about them. Your job is to figure out what to do about the barrier.”
“Why is that my job?”
“Because you’re in the thick of it!” His Highness looks exasperated now. “Listen to me. You’re the one who befriended Shoch and got us all this information. You’re the one who spilled his own blood on the altar and had that vision—”
“A vision that didn’t tell us a damn thing about the barrier!” Aric is sitting up straight now. He wants to be off the bed and pacing, like as not, but that’s not practicable with his injuries. “And as for Shoch . . . look, if we’d never caught him, he and his priest friend would have taken care of the rogue wyvern all by themselves. They would have sacrificed some poor human to do it—because my pet has no morals, left to himself—but they’d have gotten the job done.”
“And we wouldn’t know how weak the barrier is. Aric, you know I’m no devotee of the old gods. But you meeting Shoch here, you having this vision of Veshnic—that can’t all be coincidence.”
My master opens his mouth, but doesn’t say anything. I think he meant to refute all that, but couldn’t find the words.
“And there’s something else,” His Highness’s voice is calm now. “You took Shocha under your wing. It’s your job to protect him. The worst way to do that is to butt heads with our Father.”
No, no, no. I stare at Ruvan. His Highness, I mean. Don’t do this. Don’t make me the cause of Aric’s restraint.
Aric is staring at his brother too—I can see that out of the corner of my eye. “Ruvan, are you saying that you can’t protect Shoch?”
“No. I’m saying that I intend to present Shocha as a crucial informant, servant and ally with a special devotion to you.”
Now Aric is turning to stare at me, and I can see exactly what’s in his head. He has to choose between doing what he thinks is the right thing—worrying about these priests isn’t the right thing, but never mind that—and me. I don’t pretend to understand these Bonshev entirely, but even I know that’s a recipe for resentment.
To borrow my master’s favorite expletive—fuck.