“You look like you’re thinking too hard.” Aric is narrowing his eyes at me now. Or half-narrowing them, as if he’s not sure whether to be suspicious.
He’s still lying on the bed, flat on his back. I thought he was dozing off, but I should have known better. He has this trick of looking completely relaxed even while he’s fully alert.
I’m still facing him, propped up on my elbow. I was massaging his scalp, but I must have stopped. I suppose that’s why he’s wondering where my mind has flown off to.
Well, he doesn’t need to be suspicious. Not yet. Not until I know for certain that his father is a danger to him.
“Shoch? What are you plotting?”
Nothing! I wish I could scream that at him. And it’s almost true. Even if his father does go mad, I don’t know what to do about it. The only easy way for me to kill a man, peasant or king, is through sorcery. But I can’t command my wyvern without a tongue.
Of course, there is the binding ritual. At Crevlock Tower, I bound myself to Jonac long enough to speak the words of power through him. But that bond still lingers. I don’t think I can forge a new one with anyone else.
I wonder if Jonac knows that we’re still bound up with each other? He’ll figure it out eventually. Some dream of mine will cross with his. Or some strong emotion. I smother an unholy grin—I wish I could be there to see the look of horror on his face once he realizes the truth.
But I suppose I didn’t smother that grin well enough, because Aric’s eyes are full of suspicion now. “I know you’re up to something. And I know what you’re capable of.”
I just stare down at him with all the disdain I can muster.
He scoffs. “Don’t tell me, then. It doesn’t matter, because I’m not letting you out of my sight. Ever.”
Is that a fact? I make a rude gesture that’s simple enough for even him to interpret.
That gets a laugh out of him, at least. “Come here, pet. On my good side.”
I obey him. I always obey him. But it entails climbing over him so he can wrap his good arm around me and pull me up close.
He smells of Khokova bath oil, fresh linen and his own natural musk. It’s a surprisingly tart smell, that scent that’s uniquely his. But I like it. I liked it even when I first met him, when it was disguised by sweat and grime and dried blood.
And I’m the only one who knows this scent of his. Only another sorcerer would be able to breathe him in like this, marking even the faintest smell. But Aric will never let another sorcerer get this close to him, so this part of him belongs to me.
“You’re scaring me, Shoch.” There’s a laugh in his voice, but his eyes are still serious. “You look—I don’t know how to describe it.” He threads his fingers through my hair, gently tilting my face toward his. “Both satisfied and, um, feral. You remind me of a cat I had when I was little. Sweetest thing imaginable to me—then he’d catch and kill a butterfly just for fun.”
How am I supposed to react to that?
He cocks an eyebrow at me. “I meant what I said before. You’re staying right by my side—even if I have to put you on a fucking leash.”
I grunt at him in mock anger. Then I twist out of his grasp.
He grabs me to pull me back, sparking a wrestling match. A match he expects to win, but I’m not as weak or as helpless as he expects. I might not be able to match him with fists, but I’m not going to let him pin me.
We roll over, each of us clutching the other. He’s almost on top of me now, but I manage to move just right, wrenching myself away.
“Ouch!” he rolls onto his back again, grabbing his bad shoulder.
Fuck! How did I forget his injury? I grunt again, in apology this time.
“No, no. It’s all right, pet.” He lets go of his shoulder and punches me with his good hand. It’s an admiring sort of punch. “You’re better at that than I thought you’d be. And once I train you to keep your guard up and throw a punch or two, you might have a respectable chance of defending yourself. Long as no one swings a sword at you, that is.”
I ignore his banter so I can get a look at his shoulder. I didn’t stitch most of the gashes—only the deepest. And those stitches held. The rest of the wounds have largely healed. I’m not sure what he did to himself just now, but I don’t think he’s much worse off. I try to mime that to him.
He nods as he pulls me back to him. “You’re right. I’ll be fine. Maybe it’s just soreness—I’m getting spoiled by all this lazing around.”
We’re right up against each other now. And this is fine, I think. His pulse is racing and his breaths are short, but that’s due to his wounds and the exertion. He’s not aroused; I’d smell it if here were. I’d feel it too.
I’ll have to deal with his arousal sooner or later, of course. Aric has no notion how to control such things. He doesn’t have a sorcerer’s training to fall back on, or a natural indifference to the whole business. Perhaps I can learn to keep him satisfied enough, outside of rituals. I doubt it will be difficult. The problem will be convincing him that I don’t want him to return any favors. My training and indifference are more than enough to suffice.
“Listen to me, Shoch.” Aric’s voice is far off right now. Obviously fucking around is the furthest thing from his mind. “I know you’re worried about everything Ruvan said. But our father—he can’t be as bad off as my brother thinks he is. If he strong-arms a judge, if he executes a priest just to make a point . . . look, that would be murder. However angry my father might be right now, I know we can talk him out of that. I know he’ll come around.”
I don’t mime anything. I don’t react at all. Aric can be clear-eyed about the people he loves—to quote him just now, he knows what I’m capable of—but, on the whole, I trust Ruvan’s judgment more than I trust his. Aric always thinks that he can fix what’s wrong, whether it’s the barrier or something dark and sick inside another person.
But, father or not, I don’t think he can fix His Majesty. And I suspect the man is accustomed to dealing with threats, real or imagined, more harshly than Aric imagines. Aric’s been off in the legion, after all. He hasn’t witnessed his father’s governance first hand. Ruvan has—and Ruvan is worried.
“My father will listen to his family, pet.”
I still don’t react. I just nestle in closer, wondering if family means the same to His Majesty as it does to Aric.
Well, at least Ruvan is real family to him. They have a deep bond. Deeper, I think, than the blood that makes them half-brothers. Blood doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Technically, Itzel and I are blood, but once I was set apart for the Joining, I was trained to forget that fact.
Wait. For a moment, my brain just stops. Then it’s off and running again.
Itzel is my twin, by birth. And the Joining—that didn’t change the shared blood between us. It might not make for any strong affection, but there’s still a link. A link that, with the right ritual, could lead to a bond. A new bond strong enough to overcome my prior bond with Jonac.
I almost stop breathing as it hits me. If I need my words of power to eliminate His Majesty, Itzel might be the key to speaking them.