“Well, we should have a few minutes peace, at least.” Aric sighs and flops back down on his bed.
I’m still at his desk. My body’s stiff now, as if I’ve been sitting here for hours. I didn’t even stand up when His Highness left the room, Gael at his side. Ruvan made it plain that he wasn’t in the mood for formalities.
But that look I shared with Ruvan—with his Highness, I mean—that’s burned into my memory. We’re both determined to protect Aric. And we both know the idiot will do anything in his power to help those four priests.
No, he said he would resist interfering. Back at Crevlock Tower, he told me he would keep his mouth shut for my sake. So he would be here to protect me. He said he would put me first. I didn’t want to be the cause of his silence, but if it protects him . . . .
But it doesn’t matter. I don’t honestly believe that Aric will stay quiet. And their father won’t tolerate an intervention. Especially from his own son. That means Ruvan has to keep Aric here, under house arrest. Aric can’t offend his father if he hardly sees him.
But will that satisfy His Majesty? If he does intend to make an example of this one priest—Feovan, or whatever his name is—won’t he want Aric at his side?
I would, in his shoes. Granted, Aric is just a bastard son. But he is a priest himself. So if I were the king, I would want the court to see that Aric approved of my actions. That he, too, thought the priesthood had gone too far.
Fuck. Aric will never agree to that.
And what of his mother? I’ll meet the woman today. She must be a priest as well, since the Tantzi priesthood runs through the dam, not the sire.
What’s her standing here? Ruvan and Aric always seem to mention their mothers together, as if the two women are inseparable. But Ruvan’s mother is the queen. And Aric’s—what is she? She can’t also be queen, because the Bonshev only allow a person one spouse. Besides, there’s no question that Aric is regarded as a bastard. I suppose she’s a royal mistress, then.
I ball my hands into fists. Hypocrites. All these Bonshev are hypocrites. They pay no more than lip service to the moral sensibilities of their Sages.
Besides, why shouldn’t His Majesty have two wives? How is it better to marry one woman and keep another illicitly at his side? By rights, Aric’s mother should be considered his first wife, and Aric, as the first born of any wife, should be the heir—
No. No, even I’ll admit that my master is not the stuff of kings. Ruvan will make a far better ruler. And even in Rokto-xar, we still take bloodlines into account. Aric’s mother is a priest, true, but that might be the only distinction her blood can boast. Maybe she’s not fit to be a queen.
Still, it sounds as if she has some sort of position here. Perhaps a royal mistress receives all due deference from the court. Does she support His Majesty’s determination to humble the priesthood? If she has the political sense to remain in the king’s favor all these years, probably. But I doubt her son will follow her example.
“You’re quiet over there, Shoch.” Aric is propping himself up on his good arm now.
I grunt at him and point to my mouth, reminding him that more than half my tongue is missing.
He grins. “You look lost in thought, that’s what I meant. Come here.”
It’s undignified, but I scramble to obey him. Why not? That plump mattress will be more comfortable than this straight-backed chair. So a moment later I’m lying on the bed, propped up on my own elbow.
“What’s going through your brain, pet?”
The answer is simple: politics. But I can’t think of a good way to mime that, and spelling it out against his palm would be awkward now—I’d have to use my left hand. So I bite my lip instead, thinking it over, and then point to a spot just above my head.
I roll my eyes.
“No, I knew that was wrong—oh, a crown?”
I nod this time.
“You’re thinking about Ruvan? Or my father?”
That’s only half right. I shake my head a little and point to the same spot. Then I make a sort of circle with my index finger, trying to indicate the area surrounding a crown . . . or a throne, rather. And the people who populate that area.
It takes several more guesses on Aric’s part, but then his eyes light up. “Oh. The court. You’re thinking about the court? No, you’re thinking about court politics.”
I nod again.
He sighs for a second time and shifts so that he’s lying on his back.
I hesitate, but then reach out and run my fingers through that dark blond hair of his. I’m not trying to start something I don’t want to finish, but he doesn’t seem to have fucking on his mind at present. No, he rewards me with nothing more than a gentle smile, so I start massaging his scalp.
“Feels good.” He puts a hand on my arm. His skin is cooler than mine, but comforting nonetheless.
And that’s all it is—comforting. He’s not trying to start anything either. Not that he doesn’t enjoy testing my limits, but he seems content right now.
“Of all the times for my father to start a private war with the priesthood. Ruvan and I have to convince him that we have other problems. That damned barrier is failing . . . .”
Aric keeps talking, but I stop listening. Ruvan’s not at war with the priests. Ruvan understands that the barrier must be our priority. And Ruvan loves his brother—he wouldn’t arrest Aric for fulfilling his duties as a priest. And he wouldn’t keep him under arrest now if he weren’t afraid that one wrong word from Aric will call down their father’s wrath.
The truth is plain enough. It would be better for all concerned if Ruvan were already king. And if I had my tongue, I could use my words of power to eliminate His Majesty. Not that I’ve ever used sorcery for outright murder, but this is no time for scruples.
Fuck. Aric would put me back in manacles if he could read my thoughts right now. He’ll never approve. Never. Not even if his father goes completely mad. So if I find some way to act, it has to be without his knowledge.
That doesn’t sit well. I’ve promised to obey him. But that promise won’t do him any good if his father turns on him.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe His Majesty isn’t the enemy. Maybe he can still be reasoned with—despite Ruvan’s fears to the contrary. We’ll see what the mothers have to say. Perhaps they know how best to handle the man. How to redirect his attention to the things that matter.
But if not . . . well, sorcery or no sorcery, there has to be a way to put that man in an early grave.