“Father, what are you saying?” Is that my voice? It’s cracking. “You want to execute these men after some rigged trial?”
Shoch stiffens. I can feel it—we’re still sitting on the floor together. He’s still leaning back against me and I still have my arms around him.
My father is towering over us. “Aric, these priests are poison now, when they have nothing but ceremonial power.” He’s speaking slowly, as if he doesn’t think I’m sharp enough to follow him otherwise. “When the barrier falls, they’ll be only too happy to seize real power again, no matter how many people they have to sacrifice on the altar to do it.”
There’s a fierce anger in his eyes. It’s not directed at me, though. Not yet.
“You don’t know that, Father.” Damn it, my voice still sounds parched. “Have any of these men done anything deserving of death?”
He doesn’t answer.
“They haven’t, have they?”
“Aric.” My brother is staring at me, willing me to shut my mouth.
Shoch grabs one of my arms at the same time and squeezes it tight. He wants me to shut up too. Of course he does. We’ve all known my father’s mind on this. But hearing him spit it out like that—hearing him admit that he wants these priests dead—that’s different.
I shake my head at my brother. “I’m not going to sit here quietly while our father plans to murder priests, Ruv. And that’s what this is. Judicial murder.”
Ruvan sucks in a breath. He doesn’t say anything, though. Not right away. He climbs to his feet instead. “Father, I’m going to have Aric escorted back to his room. He’s still in my charge, and still under house arrest.”
Our father nods and then glances my way. The anger’s gone. There’s a faint look of contempt in his eyes instead; a look he reserves just for me. It’s the same look he gave me when I asked him—all right, when I begged him—not to make me hunt that stupid boar. And the same one he gave me when I told him I’d rather stay as Ruvan’s bodyguard than join the legion.
It’s the look that says I’ll never have the balls to be whatever it is he expects me to be. But if that means I don’t have the balls to quiet down and look on while he murders priests, so be it.
“Father, please.” I swallow. “Don’t do this. We can solve this—we can fix the barrier. I know there’s a way. And I know we don’t have to turn into Rokofar to do it.”
He deigns to answer. “You know there’s a way. Would you care to elaborate? You can’t even rescue your pet from his demon—let alone repair the barrier.”
Fuck. “I know. Not yet. But we can research. We can—”
My father snorts and turns to call for his guards.
I open my mouth to argue again, but Ruvan kneels beside me with an exasperated look. “Quiet down!” His voice is a harsh whisper. “Leave this in my hands—for Shocha’s sake if not for your own.”
That’s what finally gets me to shut up. Shoch is still vulnerable. I don’t think my father would take my disobedience out on him, but I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure of anything now.
“All right, all right.” I put my hands up in a gesture of defeat as my father gives his guards their orders—namely, to take me in charge, at least until I’m safely locked up in my room. “Ruvan, will you see to Shoch?”
Shoch grunts and starts pushing himself up, making it clear that he can stand on his own. How long he can stay standing, though, is another question.
Ruv moves to support him. “We’ll be right behind you, Aric.”
But Shoch shakes his head and grabs Ruvan’s free hand.
Ruvan manages to hold him up and squint down at the letters he’s tracing at the same time. “Sister? You want to see your sister, Shocha? Now?”
I narrow my eyes at Shoch, even though his attention is fixed on my brother. “What’s going on, pet? What do you need Itzel for?”
Ruv shrugs. “That’s their business, I suppose. Right now I’m more in charity with both of them than with you.” He shifts to support Shoch a little more. “I’ll take him to Itzel first, and then back to your room.”
The guards are surrounding me now, ready to march me out of the room, so I don’t have another chance to object. And why should I? At least Shoch is finally willing to see Itzel as a a real sibling, not just his ‘sister-that-was.’
But I know Shoch. I know he’s got something up his sleeve. And whatever it is, I’m not going to like it.