I squint my eyes open. Málaf, my head is throbbing. Someone clobbered me from behind. Gael? No, one of my father’s men, I think.
Where am I?
Lying on a cot. Staring up at a harsh gray ceiling.
All right, I need to push myself up—I need to be sitting at least. That takes a few tries, though. I have to go slow; I have to give my stomach a chance to stop churning.
I’m back in a cell. A larger one than the cramped quarters at Crevlock Tower. And there’s more than a stuffed mattress and a blanket at hand. There’s this cot, for one thing. A decent one. And, off to the side, a table with a pitcher of water on top of it. And a chamber pot over in the corner.
I squint again. There’s fresh air and light from a barred window over on the far wall. The hard light that comes in the late morning or early afternoon.
No, I’m not back in Crevlock. I’m still in Snail Rock. And I’m alone.
Where is Shoch? Is Ruvan protecting him? Did our father order his arrest? I can see other prison cells across from me, but they’re all empty. My stomach clenches. If my father sent me here, what did he do with Shoch?
Somewhere off to my left, I hear a door creak open. I force myself to my feet and then stumble my way to the bars of my cell. “Hello? Who’s there?”
No answer, but I can make out two or three sets of heavy footfalls. They’re coming closer. It’s two guards—I can see them now. They’re both wearing my father’s livery. And they’re marching Shoch between them. Fuck, what did they do to him? There are dark bruises and caked blood on his face.
One of the guards holds up a hand in warning. “Stand back.”
I obey him—no point in a suicidal protest.
Once I’m safely away from the door, the first guard—the one who spoke—unlocks it. Then the two of them shove Shoch inside. I grab him to me as they slam the door and lock it again.
“Are you all right?”
He nods into my shoulder, but he doesn’t return the hug.
I loosen my grip. “What happened?”
He pushes away from me long enough to stare at my face. His eyes are still blue, I notice. The wyvern really is gone. And so are the guards, by now—I heard them marching back the way they came.
Another long stare—and that’s all right. This is the first time I’m seeing his eyes the way they’re supposed to be, without the wyvern lurking behind them. But then Shoch is dropping to his knees and kissing my hand, same as he did back in my father’s chamber. Same as Ruvan did.
“Shoch, stop.” I kneel down too and snatch my hand back. “Enough. Look at me.”
He does. And then he reaches for my hand again. Not to kiss it this time, though. Only to trace his letters.
I say the words out loud as he spells them. “Your eyes were blue—um, my eyes? I think you mean your eyes, pet.”
Shoch shakes his head and points at me. At my eyes.
“My eyes were blue? When?”
He lets my hand drop in order to entwine his thumbs and spread out his fingers as if they were wings.
“When the wyvern was out and, uh, manifesting?”
He nods, but flaps his fingers—the ‘wings’—as if the creature were flying off.
“When you released the wyvern? When it went home?”
Shoch gives me an odd look and then takes my hand again. He pauses and then traces each letter with painstaking care.
“When I banished it?”
“I didn’t banish your wyvern, pet.” I sit down, cross-legged. “You released it. I gave it a blessing so that it would find it’s way back to Kanthara. Its home, I mean. And that’s where it went.” I hesitate. “I, uh—I’m not sure how I know that. But I do.”
Shoch sits down too and then points at my eyes.
“All right, my eyes looked blue during all that. Maybe it was a trick of the lamplight—”
He shakes his head over and over.
“Shh, calm down. That’s it.” Sages, I sound like I’m talking to the wyvern. “Here.” I offer him my hand again. “Spell your words out.”
It takes him even longer this time.
“Bright blue, more than the sky or ocean. We all saw it—we all saw what, pet?”
He mouths one word.
“You saw—you all saw Veshnic?”
“Uh . . . .” I let my voice trail off.
Shoch grabs my hand again and goes back to spelling.
“He was in me?” I smile a little at that. “No. I think we’re all in him—not the other way around. But it doesn’t matter.”
“Shh. I mean it, Shoch. It doesn’t matter—not the way you think. I’m Lord Veshnic’s priest. That was his blessing I gave the wyvern. And I was trying to do the right thing, so maybe . . . I don’t know. Maybe he really does come to life in us sometimes.”
Shoch starts spelling again, but I close my hand over his. “I’m still just me, Shoch. I promise.”
He rolls his eyes, as if he thinks I’m an idiot for not understanding the significance of his words. Which is probably true, but at least he’s not trying to kiss my hand anymore. No, he’s clasping our hands together instead. And then he lets go in order to trace more letters.
“We only have tonight?” I stare at him.
He stares back.
“Fuck, Shoch. What happens tomorrow?”
Silence. He doesn’t make any of those ugly grunts of his. He doesn’t mouth anything.
“It’s my father, isn’t it?”
A slow nod—that’s his answer.
I lower my voice, even though there’s no one else around. “Does he know that you and Ruv plotted to kill him?”
Shoch shrugs. And then he starts tracing again.
“My father knows what everyone saw? He sees me as a threat?” I look up at his face and frown. “Why? Shoch, I don’t know exactly what happened. I’m willing to give Veshnic all the credit, but—look. We just proved that we can handle the wyverns without any blood sacrifice. I don’t know if another wyvern would listen to me the same way, and we still don’t know enough about the barrier, but—”
He laughs—but it comes out as that ugly grunt. And then he makes a few motions with his hands.
My father understands all that, he’s saying. He understands it, and he wants the both of us dead.