Shoch couldn’t decide what to call me in this letter of his. He started with a formal My Lord. Too formal, because he crossed it out. He tried for Master next, but that didn’t suit him either. So he ran a line through that too. Then there’s a word with so many lines through it that I can’t tell what it was. Some endearment, maybe?
Doesn’t matter, I suppose. In the end he settled on Aric.
I smile up at him. I’m lying on the bed now, propped up with pillows. He’s sitting cross-legged toward the bottom of the mattress, eyes pinned to my face. He looks like a nervous wreck.
It’s hard not to chuckle, but I resist and turn back to his writing.
I don’t know exactly what claims I have on you, but I have a demand regardless. I don’t know if it’s polite to begin with this, but it’s the most important part of this letter, and if we don’t clear the air on this the rest of it won’t matter.
“Well, that’s a dramatic start.” I toe his knee. Gently. “I’ll say this much for you, though. You have neat handwriting.” Small too, and a little cramped, but still smooth and legible.
Shoch just keeps staring at me.
I roll my eyes and hold out my good arm. “Come here, pet.”
He shakes his head.
There’s a stand off—but only for a minute. I win. He crawls over to me and settles himself against my good side. No, “settles” is the wrong word. He’s too stiff for that. I guess he’s refusing to get comfortable until he sees my reaction to his words. I kiss the top of his head anyway and go back to the letter.
I won’t tolerate any relationship of a sexual nature between you and Commander Jonac Camaria. I’d rather leave the capital and take my chances among the heathen, uncouth commoners of Tantzil then stay and watch you moon over that blackguard.
All right. I do smile this time. “Blackguard? Really, Shoch?”
His eyes are flaming now. They’re not just red—they’re shifting between red and orange and yellow, like a real fire. If he could speak his words of power, he’d burn me to a crisp.
“Shh.” I kiss him again—on the lips this time. Just lightly, so he won’t panic. “Look, whatever happened between Jonac and me in the past—that’s long over. I promise.”
He shifts a little, using his elbow to prop himself up. Then he spits on his palm and holds his free hand up to me. His eyes are narrow and intent.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, but he keeps his hand in position. Fine. I spit on my palm and raise my hand up too—it’s my bad arm, but I manage. Then I press my hand against his, matching him finger to finger, palm to palm. That satisfies him. I get the sense that I just swore, on the graves of my ancestors, to forsake any sexual relationship with Jonac.
Well, that’s no hardship. Jonac is arrogant, judgmental and infuriating—but I’ve always been drawn to the, uh, blackguard. We’re not good for each other, though, and we both know it. Besides, he wants a respectable, high-born wife now. He doesn’t need me standing in the way.
All right, no more thoughts of Jonac. Back to Shoch’s letter.
Truth be told, I prefer you to disavow sexual relations with anyone other than myself. No, Aric, I’m not as virginal as you seem to imagine. Though copulation brings me no pleasure, I must endure the exercise nine times a year during a strictly choreographed ritual—
I burst out laughing. It’s wrong, I know, but I can’t help it.
Shoch grunts his anger and starts to push himself off the bed. I catch his tunic with my good hand and pull him back to me. He gives me a look, as if he’s about to fight me, but I shake my head.
“No, don’t leave. I apologize, pet. It’s just that this. . . this part about the nine times a year? Shoch, could you have made this sound like more of a chore?”
That earns me more ugly grunts and a number of gestures that I have no trouble interpreting.
I laugh again and pull him closer. “Settle down and let me finish.”
There are details about this “strictly choreographed ritual”—more details than I’m comfortable with. But then he gets to the purpose of the thing.
As I said, I take no pleasure in this ritual. But it’s necessary at certain points, both to honor the rhythm of time in Elam and to maintain the physical balance necessary to keep control of the wyvern in me. I must undergo this with someone. I would like it to be you. And I hope this ritual will satisfy you enough to forgo other partners. If not, I am willing to discuss the matter in hopes of reaching an acceptable compromise.
I rest the letter against my chest and bite my lip. “So I’m supposed to make do with a martyr in my bed nine times a year, is that it?”
He doesn’t answer. I don’t even get a grunt. I get those eyes of his boring into mine, though. They’re not fire-like now. No, they look more like molten lava. Or what I imagine molten lava looks like, anyway—I’ve never actually seen the stuff.
“You used the word Elam.”
Right. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. He seems to be well-educated—maybe that’s a necessity for sorcerers. But you don’t hear that word much anymore; it’s from the old tongue. Depending on context, it means this whole continent, this whole world, or everything that exists. I’m not sure which sense he meant it in. And I don’t ask.
This is all a distraction. Right now, Shoch wants to know if he can count on me to be faithful in this quasi-marriage of ours. No, that’s not fair. It’s more than a quasi-marriage. Even if we never consummated it, it’d still be real enough.
Fuck. I never thought much about marriage. I thought I’d stay in the legion, finding comfort with other soldiers now and then. But I never gave any serious thought to settling down. Why did sharing a prison cell with a Tainted change my mind?
A tainted who only has another five years to live—at best. No, I can’t think about that. Besides, we’re going to fix that. We’re going to get rid of that wyvern in him. I’m not going to let it destroy him.
If he didn’t have that wyvern, he wouldn’t need this ritual he despises so much. I suppose he’d need at least a friendly hand now and then, though. Or maybe not. Left to himself, he’d be content to live as a monk. Do monks carry on without any sort of release? I have no idea. Knowing Shoch, though, he’d probably manage.
Well, that doesn’t matter. For as long as this wyvern is still inside him, I’ll have to play my part in this ritual. Not exactly torture for me. And when the wyvern’s gone—well, I’ve always had an amiable relationship with my own left hand. I’ll survive.
“All right, Shoch. I’ll be a faithful spouse. You don’t have to compromise on that.”
He raises his eyebrows. Apparently he was expecting a fight.
I snort. “I see you still have a high opinion of me, pet. Believe it or not, I’m capable of self control.” I pause to let that sink in. “Now I’m going to finish this letter of yours. And it had better tell me something about how to separate you from the monster that’s killing you.”