“You have to eat more than that, Shoch.”
I glare at my master. Simple for him to say.
He’s sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front of him, leaning back against the bed. He has a bowl of chicken stew in front of him—or what’s left of his chicken stew, anyway. He’s all but licking the bowl.
There’s stew for me too. Now that we’re under His Highness’s protection, our rations have improved. The stew is thin on vegetables—except for the arrowroot that the Tantzi seem to put in everything—but it’s seasoned with salt and garlic. I can’t taste it, though. Not without a tongue. But I can savor the scent of it.
There’s flat bread to go with it. It hardly smells at all. We make it better in Rokto-xar. Ours is spicy, and we spread a papaya or mango chutney on it. Up here in the mountains, they don’t seem to eat as much fruit. They spread oil on everything instead.
Still, it’s all more appetizing than the gruel we made do with before. And I’ve learned, more or less, to eat and not make a mess, even without a tongue to help.
“You only took half a bowl to begin with.” Aric shakes his head in disapproval. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
What does he expect? I can’t match his appetite. He has a sturdy, muscular build that can stand a lot of fuel. But I’ve never had the time to train my body the way he’s trained his.
“Your portion is barely enough as it is—the least you can do is finish it.” He nudges my knee with his foot.
I bat his foot away. I’m sitting opposite him, cross-legged. And also on the floor. That was in deference to his choice—I didn’t want to sit above him on the bed or in a chair. Not that he’d have cared, but one of us has to mind the proprieties.
He glances down at his foot and then back up at me. “Angry with me, pet?”
That catches me by surprise. I thought he could read me better than that. I’m exasperated, perhaps, but not angry. So I shake my head as vigorously as I can.
“Good. I’m not angry with you either, you know.”
Now I look at him with suspicion. After the choice his brother presented him with, he has a right to be upset. And I wouldn’t blame him if he took his frustration with this situation—not to mention his frustration with his impotence in it—out on me.
Aric sighs as he sets down his bowl and draws his legs in. “It’s not your fault my father arrested those priests.”
He smiles—he can tell a lot from that grunt, I suppose. “Shoch, I’m not upset about what my brother said. You know, that I should just worry about the barrier and let him worry about those priests, since it’s better for you that way.”
I know it’s not my fault, but that doesn’t mean I’m not an easy target for blame. I try to mime something to that effect, but he cuts me off.
“It’s fine, Shoch. I just told you that I’m not upset.”
I give him a look he has no trouble interpreting—no miming required.
“All right, all right. I am upset about it. But not with you. It’s just that—”
He breaks off. Whatever he was about to say, he just thought better of it.
I cock my head at him. His scent just changed—he smells like fear now. Or maybe he did before, but too faintly for me to notice. It’s the sort of fear that gnaws at you.
“What?” He blushes. “We chose each other, right? I chose you for a pet—no, don’t make that face. I chose you for a spouse of sorts too. And you chose to stay with me instead of going back to Rokofar. So we’re . . . I don’t know. Husbands, I guess. And we put each other first.”
I push my food further to the side and crawl over to him. Once I’m settled next to him, I take his hand and start tracing letters, pausing to mime here and there.
“You think I’m lying? I’m not.”
Fuck. Now I understand why he uses that expletive so often. It’s perfect for expressing a range of frustration, anger and annoyance.
“Calm down, Shoch. Just start over and tell me what’s on your mind.”
Very well. I try again, being more specific this time.
His eyes widen. “You think I’m frightened?”
I nod, careful not to drop my eyes. I want to watch his reaction.
“I’m not scared, Shoch. Not the way you’re thinking. I mean, yes, I’m scared for these priests. I’m scared of what my father might do if Ruvan can’t talk him down. But mostly—” he breaks off to swallow.
He’s not usually like this. He’s not usually hesitant or uncertain. That’s not to say he always knows what to do—I think he bows to his little brother’s judgment more often than not. Perhaps he’s used to bowing to his father’s judgment as well?
Aric takes my hand and intertwines our fingers. “If Ruvan is right, if our father is growing irrational in his old age . . . I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what it means for our country, and I don’t know what it means for me and Ruvan. And I don’t like to think that the same thing could happen to either me or my brother.”
Arresting Aric and four apparently esteemed priests is problematic, but it doesn’t mean their father’s faculties are entirely diminished. I have no idea how to mime that, though. And spelling it out would take too long. So I just tighten my hold on his hand.
That seems to be the right response. It wins me a smile, at any event.
“This might be your problem some day, you know.” He winks at me. “If I get irrational when I’m old and gray, you and Ruvan will have to take me in hand. And if me and Ruvan both get irrational—well, I don’t envy you.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Should I tell him now? The wyvern in me will never let me live that long. I have a few years, at most.
I never used to care about that. I made that sacrifice with pride when I went through with the joining. But right now, staring into Aric’s eyes—
No. Why am I feeling like this? This sort of affection is beneath me. It’s for peasants—it doesn’t have any place in a sorcerer’s life. Besides, I’ve only known Aric for a few days. Why should I think of him as a spouse? A master, yes. His station is sufficiently higher than mine. Especially since I’m worthless as a sorcerer now. But a husband . . . .
“What’s wrong, pet?”
It’s no use. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Perhaps the agony of captivity and torture—and yes, I count losing my tongue as torture—has addled my brain, but I do think of Aric as my spouse. And I have since he first called me that. And even before that moment, I’ve had this pathetic need to stick close to him.
And it doesn’t matter. As my master or my spouse—or both—he deserves the truth.
I start loosening my grip on his hand so I can trace letters against his palm. But before I can even start, I hear His Highness’s long stride approaching. I twist around a little to face the door.
“Aric? Shocha?” His Highness is grinning as he walks past the guard into our room. “There are sutlers arriving.”
“All the way up here?” Aric looks surprised.
“Why not? Crevlock Tower is essentially a garrison as well as a prison—and apparently the guards get their monthly pay tomorrow. Why don’t you two come with me? We’ll get a first look at the goods.”
Aric grins. “All right, if I can lean on you and Shoch. But we don’t have any coin. You’re treating.” He pauses to look at me, a question in his eyes. He’s giving me the chance to explain myself, to tell him what’s wrong before we leave.
But I can’t—not after this interruption. I’ll wait till tonight, once we’re alone again. And this time, one way or another, I’ll get the words out.