It’s dark outside now, but there’s some light in here. It’s flickering through the bars, thanks to an oil lamp that’s hanging just outside the cell. The stripes of light are bright enough that I can see Shoch’s face.
We cleaned him up. The bruises are still there, but the caked blood is gone. He’s lying on the cot now with his head on my lap and his eyes closed. His breaths are steady and even.
Hard to believe he’s at peace enough to sleep. Me, I’m wide awake. I’m not even lying down. I’m sitting up, my back against the wall as I stroke Shocha’s hair, listening to the sounds that float in through the window.
It’s noisier here than at Crevlock Tower. Well, it would be—we’re in the heart of the capital. Snail Rock is set off a bit from the city at large, but I can hear servants bickering and guards marching and wagon wheels creaking down in the courtyard below, even at this time of night.
I need those noises to keep sane. Otherwise my mind will drift back to what’s in store for Shoch and me come morning.
Ruvan sealed our fate. That’s what Shoch thinks.
It took him a long time to spell and mime all this out, but he swears that everyone in the room saw Veshnic manifest in me. My father could dismiss that vision as some sort of delusion, though. And he didn’t care that Shoch knelt to me and kissed my hand. Shoch is my servant, after all. But when Ruvan followed suit . . . .
My father couldn’t stand for that. Not for the crown prince kneeling to a priest.
“None of it makes sense.” Fuck, did I say that out loud?
Shoch squints his eyes open. After a yawn and a stretch he shifts so that he’s sitting up too, curled in my arms.
I rest my chin on top of his head. “Sorry, pet. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
He gives me a shrug and a half-hearted grunt. Then he nips my neck with his teeth—a tentative little bite, but a suggestive one. That was definitely an invitation.
All right. Despite everything, I grin. “What, we don’t have to wait for a certain time of the year now? We won’t need a ritual to get the fucking just right?”
He rolls his eyes. I can’t see him do it, but I know him. And I know that he’s no more interested in fucking now than he was with the wyvern inside him. He’s just offering for my sake.
I plant a light kiss on top of his hair. “Ruvan might still come through for us. And if he does, we’ll have time to figure things out. To, um—to make sure we both satisfy each other. But for now . . . I don’t know. I’m just too numb.”
Shoch bites my neck again—hard this time, just to be a prick—but he doesn’t offer any other argument. He just sighs and curls up even tighter against me, as if we could share the same skin. And I don’t mind that. No, this is good.
But my brain keeps churning back to the same question: what is my father thinking? “I don’t understand this, Shoch.” I start rubbing his back. “I know my father’s afraid that the priesthood will seize power and turn us into Rokofar.”
“But we just proved that we don’t need human sacrifice to send these wyverns back home.”
Shoch nudges me. It’s a question, I think.
“No, I’m not saying I know how to repeat what happened, pet. But if we research the barrier—if we work with Rokofar—who knows? There’s a hundred things we can do.”
Shoch breaks away from me, just a little, so he can look into my face. Does he blame me for interfering with his plot? Or for bringing him here to begin with? I promised that he’d be safe, damn it. I promised him.
He doesn’t look like he blames me, though. There’s a devotion in his eyes that I don’t deserve. And they’re still pale blue—his eyes, I mean. Even in this light, I can see there’s no hint of red in them.
How much longer do I have with him? If my father really means to execute the two of us, he’ll have done with Shoch at daybreak. Shoch ain’t protected by our law. No trial required.
It will take longer to do away with me. There will be a trial. And at the end of it, the executioner will chop off my head. But for Shoch, it will be the stake. Unless Ruvan can talk our father into something more merciful.
Shoch grunts at me again, pulling me back to the present.
“Sorry, pet. I just keep thinking about—”
He punches my arm.
“Shoch, I’m pinning my hopes on Ruvan. He can do something for us. He must be the one who had you brought here. He must have convinced our father not to keep us apart. Maybe—”
My pet lets out a disgusted sigh. Maybe he doesn’t want to spend his last hours fretting about this. Or maybe he’s lived with the fear of an early, painful death for so long now that he can tolerate it.
I can’t. I’m terrified. Not for myself—I can stand death by the ax. Maybe when the moment comes, when I’m climbing up the scaffold, my head will swim and my knees will knock. But here, sitting in this cell, I can stand it.
But not the thought of the flames licking at Shoch, roasting him alive, leaving him grunting in pain until he finally passes out . . . .
Shoch stiffens, as if he caught the sound of something. I can almost see his ears perking up.
“What is it?”
He doesn’t answer. He just climbs to his feet.
I follow his lead, even though I still don’t hear anything. But a few seconds later I do. The heavy tread of more than one pair of boots. The door down the hall creaking open.
A minute later, Jonac is standing in front of our cell with two guards behind him. My father’s men, I think. But all three of them, Jonac included, are wearing my brother’s livery.
“What’s going on?” I cock my head at Jonac as Shoch takes my hand.
“His Majesty has ordered you and Shocha to be brought back to your chamber and retained there until this matter is sorted.”
I blink. “My chamber—I don’t understand. Does my father plan to release us?”
Jonac’s face is blank. But he’s agitated. I can tell by the way he sucks in a lung’s worth of air.
Something is wrong. Are we really going to my quarters? Are they going to take Shoch away from me now? Fuck, I’ve seen people burned at the stake. I can almost smell the burning flesh right here and now.
“Jonac, please tell me what’s happening.”
He finally finds his voice. “I regret to inform you that your father, the king, is dead. Long live King Ruvan the First.”