Half an hour later, once all the noise and protests from upstairs subsided, Shane took a seat at the table with Brock and Emma. There was a plattter of thick, hearty bread, smoked salmon, a variety of cheeses and some chopped up vegetables. He reached around Katie, who seemed content to snuggle in his lap, to make himself a plate. Hopefully the chit would drift off soon.
Emma watched her husband as he made his own plate and caught her up on the events after the trial. Then she turned to Shane, eyes wide and intent. “You saw the dragon?”
He nodded and related as much of the story as he had to Brock. She guessed, probably, that he was leaving parts of the story out—parts he would never tell anyone.
“Well, thank Obsidian you’re here.” Emma reached across the table to pat his arm. “And can’t you still appeal your sentence?”
“I can, but lacking new evidence it’s not likely to do any good.”
She frowned. “But—will they allow you to remain with the Watch as a slave?”
“I doubt it,” Brock said before Shane could answer. But then he paused. “However—Shane, I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. But the high priest seems to think that they might allow you some sort of position as a consultant.”
Shane quirked an eyebrow at him. “Under my new master’s supervision?”
“Of course. And if the white heads agree to this, you better show me some me some respect in Ironbound, boy.”
Shane laughed despite himself, but Emma rolled her eyes. “I’m still glad you’re here with us, free or not. I mean—”
“Don’t worry. I know what you mean. But I think you should know that my assets—which are considerable—now belong to your husband. But he’s being stubborn about accepting them.”
“Quiet, you,” Brock stuffed the last of the salmon in his mouth. “I ordered you to stop talking about that.”
“I was hoping Emma would countermand you.”
Brock snorted. “I am the head of this household, thank you.”
Emma collected the empty plates and winked at Shane as she rose to her feet. “I let him think that. It makes everything easier. Since Katie’s been so peaceful, Shane, would you mind bringing her up to bed? She has her own mattress now in the nursery.”
“Not at all,” he stood up slowly so as not to disturb the child, who had finally fallen asleep.
“We’ll put you in my little brother’s room for now,” Brock added. “Devon’s still at University; the term doesn’t end till next week. He won’t mind.”
“Yes, that will suit,” Emma agreed.
Brock stood up as well. “I’ll make sure the room is in respectable enough order.”
Shane nodded. Brock took a lantern and led the way upstairs.
Katie didn’t wake up as Shane tucked her under the covers, and neither did the boys as he crept out of the room. He shook his head. How much of his life would revolve around children now? Not that he minded, precisely. He had always felt like an uncle to these cubs. But he had never imagined living with the lot of them.
He stepped into Devon’s room, which was small and crammed full of books. No fireplace warmed it, but that probably didn’t matter. It was tucked away in the southeastern corner of the house; it would soak in heat from the rooms around it. Regardless, Brock was adding an extra blanket to the narrow bed.
“Thank you,” Shane said.
“You’re welcome. I’m not sure what we’ll do when Dev comes back.”
He shrugged. “I can sleep down by the fireplace if necessary.”
“Or maybe we can fit another bed in here.” Brock looked around. “Dev will have to move some of these piles of books, though. In fact, why don’t you look through them and sort them out?”
“Devon won’t thank me for that—and I doubt he’ll want a roommate.”
Brock smirked. “Once he finds out that you’re the roommate in question, he won’t object. Believe me. But maybe that’s a reason to put you downstairs instead.”
“Ah, I haven’t seen him since he left for University. He’s probably gotten past his infatuation.”
“Here’s hoping. Maybe he’s finally discovered women.”
“At University? How many females do you think are roaming the halls?”
“True. And I don’t suppose he sought them out elsewhere.” Brock paused, and even in the flickering lantern-light, Shane could see the change in his expression. “I wish we could go over to the tavern tonight. But, ah, the high priest said we should keep the mitigation of your sentence quiet for now. Give things a chance to blow over.”
“I’m not anxious to see our mates. I—I’m not sure they’ll welcome me.”
“Oh, they will. It’s me they don’t want to see. I’m the one who arrested my own partner and testified against him.”
That caught Shane by surprise. He hadn’t thought of the hell Brock must have received at the hands of their brethren. “How bad has it been?”
Brock shrugged. “Pretty bad. I mean, nothing I can’t handle, but bad.”
“Well, I can’t say I blame them. We were partners, Brock. Remember? Brothers of the Watch?”
“We’re still partners.”
Shane shook his head. “No. You’re above me now. I’ll accept that—but I want to know why you refuse to believe I’m innocent.”
Brock put a hand on his shoulder. “Because all the evidence points to you. Because of what I saw with my own eyes. And because I know exactly what you’re capable of.”
“I see.” Shane pushed away from him. “Thank you for—for the bed, for the hospitality. All of it.”
“You’re welcome, even though you’d have been happier in that tiny, quiet room at the temple.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think the pandemonium here might grow on me. It’s preferable to the priesthood, at any event.”
“Well, as Emma said, we’re happy to have you.” He hesitated. “Look, we’re still—we’re brothers no matter what, aren’t we?”
Shane shrugged. “Why not? Obsidian knows you treat Devon like a slave.”
Brock laughed and clasped him on the shoulder again.
Shane smiled back—but he felt that smile fade as Brock walked out of the room.