The wine is cooling when Aric walks into the kitchen, linen bandages in hand. He nods at Gael and then gives me a smile that’s half questioning and half apprehensive—as if he’s expecting a renewal of hostilities.
Gael looks from one of us to the other and then excuses himself. Smart man, but his retreat isn’t necessary. I’m not enraged any longer. I’m not even upset. I’m just . . . I don’t have the right words to explain what I am. And I don’t know what to mime to my master now that we’re alone.
Alone except for the guards, that is. Jonac makes sure that I’m never really alone with Aric. Does he think I’ll stab the bastard prince when he’s not looking?
“What’s wrong, pet? Still angry with me?”
I shake my head and nod toward the doorway.
Aric glances at the guards and then crinkles his forehead. “What about them? Oh. You want to chew me out in private?”
All right. That draws a laugh from me. But I point to the dried blood on his shoulder and then I make a fist and touch it to my chest, right above my heart.
“You don’t have to apologize for that, Shoch. It’s not your fault the wounds ripped open.” He grunts as he takes a seat on a stool with his back toward me. Then he shrugs his arms out of his tunic, letting the top half of the garment spill down over his belt.
I strip the old bandages off first. Then I dip a cloth into the wine and start cleaning the caked blood off his skin. There’s no infection, at least. Aric is quiet though—he doesn’t say anything while the wine does its work. Or when I turn to bandaging him again.
Is he just hiding the pain he’s in? I tap his good shoulder to find out.
“Sorry, pet. Lost in thought.”
I tap him again.
“About what? Uh, when you left our room, I sat down by the fireplace. Ruvan and Jonac took your sister to her quarters. Gael was with you. But me—” He breaks off and lets out a quiet, half-bitter laugh. “I just stared into the coals.”
He sounds embarrassed. Why? I put the excess bandages down, waiting for him to continue.
Aric shifts to face me—and his whole face is turning red. Bright red. “I was trying to pray. But I don’t know how to.”
I blink. That’s not what I expected.
“Sounds idiotic, don’t it?” He grins a little as he lapses into that peasant slang of his. Or maybe it’s legion slang; I don’t know. “My, um, partner in life tells me that he’s only got a few years to live. And me, a priest—a priest who had a vision of a god, even—can’t figure out how to pray for him.”
He’s worried about me. Our whole world is going to end in fire and claw, and Aric still can’t bear to live without his pet. I roll my eyes at him, but I can’t keep my affection for him out of my smile. Fuck, I wish I had my tongue. I wish I could tease him out loud over this.
“It’s even stupider, considering what Veshnic—Lord Veshnic, I mean—told me to do about praying. He gave me instructions.”
I remember how Aric described that conversation. I wrote it down for him.
“He gave me all these options, Shoch. But I swear, I can’t get a single word out. Nothing is working. My brain feels dead every time I try.” He pauses to swallow. And to cock his head at me. “Well? Any advice? Your people must know more about praying than mine.”
I stare straight into his eyes. I want to talk to him. I want to tell him what prayers I’ve heard our priests say. I want to explain how, in Rokto-xar, no one but a priest is supposed to pray. The rest of us just chant the refrains.
More than that, I want to clear the air. About Jonac. About the rituals I went through in Rokto-xar—would they be enough to satisfy Aric?
But I don’t want to mime all this. I don’t want to spell it out against his hand. I want to say it to him. I want him to hear my words. And I’m not burning up with anger this time. I’m not grunting in frustration. I just want to speak.
Aric’s still staring at me. He must have read my thoughts, because he shakes his head a little. “You want to talk? Is that it? You want your tongue back?”
I nod. Then I point to him and make a slicing motion.
“I’d have cut your tongue out too, if I were in Jonac’s shoes? Is that what you mean?”
I nod again.
“I never denied that, Shoch. But that’s when I’m thinking like a commander. A commander who has to keep his men safe from this . . . this sorcerer who can summon up the demon in him with words of power.” He pauses and looks down at the floor before meeting my eyes again. “It’s not how I feel about you now. If I could give you your tongue back, I would. I trust you now.”
That means something. I’m not sure what, but something.
He bites his lip. Then he raises one hand and points a finger at me. “I want you to answer me honestly, Shocha. I know you lie to me sometimes. Or you keep secrets—no, don’t deny it. I trust you, remember? I trust you to tell me things in your own good time. But this—I need to know this now. I need to know if it’s possible to separate you from your wyvern.”
I start shaking my head.
“Wait!” He sighs as he lowers his hand. “Shoch, I’m just talking about a chance. No matter how small. A chance that we can separate the two of you, send that wyvern back where it came from, and keep you alive. Alive and . . . well, still sane? You said it wouldn’t be you, exactly, but—no. Maybe the separation will change you, but—just tell me there’s a chance.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck. He wants the truth? Fine. I hold up my thumb and my forefinger, intending to show him just how small a chance we’re dealing with.
He puts his hand over mine, bringing my fingers back together. “You can tell me the odds later. I just want to know if it’s possible. You demon spawn have all these rituals. Isn’t there one to separate a sorcerer from his wyvern? To unbind the two of you?”
Damn him. Damn him and every other Bonshev on the planet to the worst hell the gods can devise.
Yes. I let out a long, disgusted sigh, but then I nod my head—because that ritual does exist.