Brock followed Robin through a door that was normally closed to the public. There was a lantern hanging on the wall; Robin lifted it off its hook and used it to guide them down a narrow hallway. They passed a door every so often; this must be the living quarters for the acolytes and priests who were either unmarried or temporarily staying at the temple.
Robin stopped at the last door and knocked. Brock froze. He stood there stupidly, with his mouth hanging open, because suddenly he knew. He knew exactly whose voice would answer.
Robin opened the door to a small room with just a desk, a cot, and another lantern. Shane was standing in the center of it. He didn’t look surprised to see the high priest, but then his eyes widened.
And it really was Shane. He looked like he did at his trial, with that black hair of his trailing down his neck. He liked to keep it cropped short, but prisoners didn’t have access to a barber. He hadn’t sprouted a full beard or mustache, though. He was Ancoran by ancestry. Well, sort of Ancoran. He was what they called an ‘old blood’ down there: Vasteke. The Vasteke didn’t grow much facial hair, and—apart from the slant to their eyes—the cast of their features was almost elven.
They weren’t elven, of course. Everyone knew that elves and humans couldn’t produce offspring. But Ancoran legends claimed something even more bizarre: that the Vasteke were descendants of a serpent deity and his human wife. Having witnessed Shane’s snake-like grace, Brock almost believed it.
But none of that grace was in evidence right now. Shane was just standing there, staring as stupidly as Brock was.
He was dressed in his regimentals. Hadn’t the Watch stripped him of his uniform? No, because his jacket was draped over the desk chair. He must have been decked out when he went to the dragon. Good for him.
“I’m going to leave you two to talk.” Robin backed out the door and shut it behind him.
The high priest’s words broke whatever spell had fallen over both men. Brock found his voice first. “Obsidian didn’t make a meal out of you.”
“Too lean for his tastes?”
Shane snorted. “You ought to have been charged with Harris’s death. You’ve got more meat on you.”
Brock grinned and took a step toward his partner. When Shane didn’t retreat, he put his hands on Shane’s shoulders. “I thought you were dead.”
Shane smiled and put his own hands on Brock’s arms. “No. Obsidian ruled against the death penalty.”
“Did he—did he exonerate you?”
The smile vanished. “No. I didn’t appeal the verdict, so Obsidian didn’t rule on it one way or the other.”
“But he mitigated your sentence?”
Shane let his hands drop and then stepped back. “As you see.”
Brock took a step back as well. “I don’t understand. If you truly are innocent, why in hell aren’t you appealing?”
“Because lacking new evidence, my friend, there’s no point. If you don’t believe me, who else is going to?”
“But doesn’t Obsidian know what really happened, one way or the other?”
To his surprise, Shane let out a harsh, humorless bark of laughter. “Brock, I have no idea how omniscient the dragon is. I don’t—let’s not talk about this.”
“But . . . I don’t understand. If you didn’t want him to exonerate you, why did you go to him? Just for honor’s sake?”
“Yes. Wouldn’t you prefer the dragon’s teeth to a noose?”
“Fuck, no. But the dragon—he didn’t think you deserved death?”
“I’m standing here, aren’t I?”
Brock absorbed that. “What was it like?”
“What was what like?”
“You know what I’m asking. What was it like to stand before Obsidian?”
Shane took his time about answering. He leaned back against the desk, folded his arms across his chest, and chewed on his bottom lip. “It’s not like seeing him in the skies, at a safe distance. He’s a predator. A predator who’s about a million times smarter than his prey.”
“Yes, us.” He paused, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “Robin led me through the pathways in the marsh. I swear I could feel Obsidian’s eyes on me the whole time we were there. Even before we saw him. And I was sweating and shivering and when I did see him, finally—the dragon, I mean—he was in the water. He was silent as he came toward us, Brock. Absolutely silent.”
“You’ve got good ears. You couldn’t hear him at all?”
“No. And we could only see his head and that long neck of his. You know the size of him. How could he not make a sound?”
Shane didn’t seem to expect an answer, so Brock kept quiet.
“And then—once Obsidian is looking at you, you can’t move. You can’t run. And you feel as if there’s no hiding anything from him, but—” Shane broke off and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter now. ”
Brock just nodded. No words seemed adequate. “So what happens now? Are you free?”
“No. Obsidian didn’t change the verdict, remember? And murderers who aren’t executed—”
“Yes. I’m Obsidian’s property, I suppose.”
“We’re all that.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. Robin offered me the opportunity to study here—to see if I had a calling to become a priest. But I don’t. He might be able to meet with the dragon on a regular basis, but me? No thank you.”
“But it’s better than being sold at auction! You could end up in the copper mines, you could end up—”
Shane held up a hand to stop him. “I don’t think that’s what Obsidian intends. Besides, it’s in Robin’s hands now, and he’s no friend to the slavers. I think he’ll keep me on as a menial here before it comes to that.”
Brock opened his mouth to respond but abruptly shut it. He thought back on Robin’s words, until a thin smile formed on his face. “I think the high priest has something else in mind.”