They keep the wine barrels in the kitchen of Crevlock Tower. Only four at a time, though the soldiers drink it steadily enough. It’s pungent, heady stuff, so they need to water it down. One cup of wine to three cups of water, from what I’ve seen. Aric always adds a spoonful of honey to his; that seems commonplace among these Bonshev. Gael even adds a few spoonfuls to our batch, despite the fact that we won’t be drinking it.
I feel a pang in my stomach to see honey wasted like that—it’s a rare luxury in Rokto-xar—but it’s rumored to be good for wounds as well. So I suppose there’s no harm.
Together, we pour the mixture into a cast iron pot. I hoist it up and hang it on a low hook over the fireplace. We don’t bother with a lid; the mixture will boil quick enough. Especially after Gael kicks the wood around to raise the flames.
“Are you ready for Fallpoint?” Gael leans back against the side of the fireplace and bangs his heel on the floor, hoping to knock some of the ash off the toe of his stiff leather boot.
I shrug. What can a Tainted do to prepare for a trip into the heart of the Bonshev?
Gael must understand that, because he smiles a little. “It won’t be easy. There’s no way to hide those red eyes of yours. But His Highness and Aric will protect you. Me too, Shocha, if it comes to it. I protect everyone in His Highness’s household.”
Thank you. I mouth that to him, along with the mime of two open hands.
He smiles. “You’re welcome.”
I point to his tunic.
He looks down at it and then nods. “Yes, you’ll have some sort of livery. Not like mine; you’re not a guard. But it’ll be red as well, with touches of gold and blue—those are the colors of the royal family.”
I point to the stylized antlers embroidered on his badge.
“These? Oh, their emblem is the falcon,but that’s the family as a whole. His Highness’s personal emblem is the stag.”
I point to myself.
“Your badge? Well, Aric’s emblem was the boar, but His Highness wants him to change it to the wyvern. He’s earned it, after that battle—and so have you. But maybe Aric will want some emblem of Veshnic’s instead. You know, given his vision . . . .” He lets his voice trail off.
He’s embarrassed, I think. They’re not comfortable with the gods, these Bonshev. Odd, though. Especially for Gael. His people have only followed the Sages for a couple of generations.
Gael shrugs at me. “I don’t know what Aric thinks. And I’m not even sure what Veshnic’s emblem is.”
I can tell him that much. I know what the Tantzi of old thought, back before the Sages. I spread out my arms like wings and try to look large and majestic.
“Not a falcon too, is it? No, bigger than a falcon. A condor, then?”
Damn it. How to mime this? I point to my nose and indicate a distinctive curve and hook.
“Oh, the mander eagle?”
He considers that. “I suppose that’s appropriate for a god. But I don’t know if it’s right for Aric to borrow it.”
As both a priest and a prophet—a prophet Veshnic chose directly—I think Aric would be allowed. So I give Gael a sort of nodding shrug.
He grins. “I’ll take your word on that. And I suppose we’ll find out soon enough which your master prefers—the wyvern or the eagle. Assuming he’s willing to leave the boar behind.”
Why the boar? I try to convey that by another shrug and a tilt of my head.
“He hunted one, at his father’s request, when he turned sixteen. It was a way to—well, prove his manhood, I suppose. A rite of passage? That was before my time.”
I stare at him. I’ve heard tell of wild boars. They’re not native to my desert or to these mountains, I don’t think—no, some idiot Tantzi imported them from overseas a century or so ago. They’re strong, deadly beasts with tough, hairy hides and a penchant for goring their attackers.
Why would their father order Aric to hunt one? Just because he came of age? We can’t take foolish risks like that in my country. Our sacrifices are specific and necessary. We don’t waste anyone on some fool quest to prove their manliness.
Gael must have noticed my disgust. He offers me another smile—a small one, this time. “Both His Highness and Aric are devoted to their father. They look up to him—and they should. His Majesty is an exceptional king. But . . . he can be a hard man.”
So I gathered. Did he pass that trait to his boys? Ruvan is hard—much harder than Aric realizes—but I doubt he’d risk a son on a boar hunt. Not even a bastard son. There are more than enough real wars to fight.
And as for Aric . . . Aric isn’t hard. He’s tough and he’s brave: he proved that when he faced the wyvern. And I’m sure he made a decent soldier. But he’s strangely gentle.
I smile a little. He couldn’t bring himself to strangle me when we first met, even though he had good reason to. He was trapped in a cell with a Tainted, after all. Even without my tongue, he didn’t know for sure that I had no sorcery. And his people believe the wildest tales about us and how we delight in murdering the Bonshev.
He came closer to strangling me later. That was when he found out my real thoughts—and my real intentions—as far as human sacrifice goes. But once again, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Even though those sacrifices are the supreme sin to his people.
Just as well for me, of course. But it shows that he’s too soft.
That softness worries me. Will Itzel take advantage of it? Probably not. She has no reason to harm Aric. He and his brother are both powerful Bonshev who want to fix the barrier. So we’re all on the same side.
What about Jonac? No. He might do me in, but he’s no enemy to my master. In fact, he’s—I don’t know what he is to Aric. But for all their fighting and quarreling, I don’t like the way they glance at each other sometimes. It’s a knowing sort of glance . . . .
I turn back to Gael, who’s watching the pot. I grunt to get his attention.
He’s instantly alert. “What’s the matter, Shocha?”
I point to his palm.
“You want to trace letters? All right.” He holds out his hand to me.
Fuck. What will he think of me for asking this? A mere servant has no right to ask this. But I forge ahead regardless.
“Are Jonac and Aric—” He breaks off instead of finishing my question out loud. Then he looks around, as if to make sure that we’re still alone.
I swallow, waiting for his answer.
“I don’t know. That’s the truth, Shocha. There have been rumors about the two of them—they used to serve in the same cohort. I know they were inseparable for a while. But they’d fight too.”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Gael laughs a little and shakes his head. “Your eyes are burning now—it looks like you can shoot flames from them.”
I snort—if only. Jonac would be my first target.
“Listen to me, Shocha.” Gael’s voice is still friendly, but there’s a firmness to it. “Jonac is looking to marry high and start a family. Whatever happened in the past, there’s no place in his life for Aric now. And Aric chose you. Even though you want to live like a monk.”
I take his hand again.
He watches as I trace my letters. “He didn’t say he’d be faithful?” Gael rolls his eyes. “You expect Aric to live like a monk too? That’s not fair. You understand that, don’t you?”
Yes, I understand that. But that understanding doesn’t stop the anger burning inside my belly—as if my wyvern is stoking the flames.
“Shocha, do all sorcerers live like monks?” There’s no distaste in his voice. No, just vulgar curiosity.
I trace my letters slowly this time. I don’t want to risk him misunderstanding.
“You’re not a monk? There are—there are what? Oh, rituals.” He pauses, squinting. “It only happens at pre-ordained rituals?”
I nod again.
He doesn’t look as shocked as I thought. “My people used to have priests like that—priests who only, uh, indulged during rituals. We never had sorcerers, though. And, anyway, that was all before we came to the Sages.” He pauses to look me up and down. “Talk to Aric. Talk to him about whatever you two were fighting over, and about this. You’ll sort things out.”
How? Does he think Aric will agree to participate in this ritual nine times a year and be satisfied with that? Anything more will be repugnant to me. And it will unbalance my wyvern. And nothing will convince him to give up this idea of separating me from that wyvern.
No, these aren’t matters we can just sort out. Not either of them. But I don’t say that. I turn back to the pot of wine instead.