Aric wears a shocked, stupid expression as he stares at his little brother. He opens his mouth only to close it again. Then he shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and tries once more to get the words out. “Let me make sure I understand you, Ruv. Father wants to execute the priests he had arrested—the four heads of the Crevcara colleges?”
“On what charge?”
“And that’s what—treason?”
I grunt to interrupt him. I love this man, but how can he be so ignorant?
Aric glances down at me—I’m still sitting at his desk—and raises his eyebrows.
I shake my head.
He spares me a grin. “All right, all right. I know you’re smarter than I am, pet. Apparently your vocabulary is better too.”
His Highness, who’s leaning up against the wall now, smiles at the pair of us. But then his face turns serious. “It’s not the same as treason, but it’s related. Sedition means to incite others to rebel. To stir them up with your speeches or demonstrations—or, in this case, writings.”
“All right. What the hell were these priests writing about?”
Aric looks flabbergasted.
His Highness, on the other hand, keeps his face scrupulously neutral.
“History? What, they’re commenting on dusty old tomes?”
“How is that sedition?”
I think I can guess the explanation. I keep half an ear on Ruvan’s words and shift so that I can get a look at Gael.
None of this is news to him—that’s clear enough. And that makes sense; he’s Ruvan’s personal guard, after all. He might have been present when Ruvan met with his father. But this news has upset him—that’s also clear enough. I hope he kept his emotions hidden while Ruvan was speaking to His Majesty. But that’s probably asking too much of him. I think Gael is like Aric, with his thoughts always written on his face.
Meanwhile, Ruvan’s explanation matches my guess. These priests have been researching the old priestly records—records from before the time of the Sages, when priests were as powerful here in Tantzil as they are now in Rokto-xar. Mere scholarly exercises, like as not, but I’ve heard enough hints from both brothers to guess which way the wind is blowing.
A man doesn’t have his own son arrested for performing his priestly duties, or the four chief priests arrested for a bit of research. Not unless he’s determined to break the priesthood once and for all.
And that’s what Ruvan is trying to explain to Aric. “Don’t you understand? Father has always despised the priests. But he’s lost his ability to . . . to compromise. To be reasoned with. You know what they say—our grandfather was the same way in his old age.”
“Yes. And we know that because Father used to complain about how irrational the man became!”
Ruvan brushes a few stray strands of hair off his forehead and tucks them behind his ear. “Well, apparently it runs in the family. And before you ask, yes. We should be frightened. If he wants to start persecuting the priesthood, it’s going to be difficult to stop him. He’s not an absolute monarch, but he’s close.”
“He can’t just persecute them, Ruv. There has to be a trial. No judge in his right mind will take these charges seriously.”
I grab Aric’s hand and start tracing letters against his palm.
Aric keeps quiet as he works out what I’m saying. Then he sighs.
“What is it?” Ruvan asks.
“Shoch says that from what he saw of our father, the man is hale enough. No judge will risk angering a king who can bedevil him for years to come.”
“Well, Shocha’s right. Fortunately, I don’t think it will come to a full-scale persecution. I think Father wants to make an example of the head priests. Most likely, he’s looking to execute Feovan—he’s the most influential, and he’s fought the hardest to keep the priesthood relevant.”
“Relevant?” Aric gives his brother a hard look this time. “Ruv, priests will always be relevant. Unless Father can convince every last peasant that no one needs a priest at their birth, marriage or death—”
“Not that sort of relevant.” Ruvan’s trying hard, I think, not to roll his eyes. “You’ve never paid attention to court politics, Aric. You don’t know how brutal they are—”
Aric snorts. “Oh, I know how brutal they are. Remember, I wanted Gael’s job. I wanted to be your personal body guard. But, thanks to court politics, Father had other ideas. Send me off to the legions. Prove that he’s willing to risk his son at war too. Never mind that it’s a disposable bastard boy.”
Ruvan shifts, letting the wall support more of his weight. “Father—he didn’t mean that you’re disposable.”
“Yes he did, Ruv. And that’s fine. I don’t bear him any grudge for that. I even see his point. But don’t tell me I don’t know how brutal court is.”
I stare up at Aric with a new, grudging respect. He knows more about sacrifice than I thought.
“You’re right.” Ruvan swallows. “I’m sorry.”
Aric shrugs off the apology. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does, but it can wait.”
“Right. What’s the situation with Feovan?”
“The man spent his life maneuvering to make certain that the priesthood keeps a level of political power. That’s what Father can’t abide. Now he and the others put out these scholarly opinions about the way things were—and the fools made it sound like they were waxing lyrical for the days of old.”
“Feovan doesn’t want power like that,” Gael puts in. “I know him. He helped bring my family to the light of the Sages.”
“He doesn’t want to go back to the days of the temples,” Ruvan agrees. “But he wants the priesthood to be an even stronger voice at court.”
Gael balls his hands into fists. “That’s not a crime!”
“No, it’s not.” Ruvan’s voice stays calm and soothing. “But Father doesn’t see it that way.”
I tune out any further talk about this Feovan and his ambitions. His Majesty can chop off the man’s head or burn him at the stake for all I care. It’s Aric I’m worried about.
Aric, who’s a priest through his mother’s line. Aric, who’s already under house arrest for giving those deserters their burial rites against his father’s orders. Aric, who won’t have enough sense to keep his head down while his father strikes back against the priesthood.
Somehow I feel Ruvan’s eyes on me. He’s quiet now, letting Gael do the talking. And he’s giving me a questioning look, as if he’s testing my loyalty to his brother.
I nod in understanding. Yes, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to save my master from himself.