Content Warning: This blog generally contains non-explicit adult content. I think this chapter still falls under that heading, but there are potentially triggery references to past violence and rape.
For the better part of twelve years now, Shane had been able to regard that name—and the man who bore it—with indifference. He was no longer a raw cadet, after all. He no longer tasted the blood in his mouth from Will’s right hook. He no longer felt the weight of Will’s hands as he and two of his mates forced him to bend over a table.
But he still remembered. He still recalled every word of their drunken banter as they assured him that a man of his tastes deserved what he was about to get—that his sort would enjoy it, like as not. What he would ‘enjoy’ turned out to be the end of a broom handle.
Shane shook himself and then rose to his feet. No, he had not forgotten that day, twelve years back—nor forgiven it—but it was bootless to dwell on it. He had, out of necessity, worked with Will since then. And once the scraggly blond had even mumbled something that resembled an apology. Shane hadn’t graced it with a response, but he hadn’t set out for revenge either. For the most part, he had simply ignored Will’s existence.
“Sit down, Shane,” Brock repeated.
Shane opened his mouth to formulate some kind of respectful refusal, but Will’s voice cut in.
“He can’t,” he spat, stepping in front of the clerk and the fellow who was probably the inspector. “You ought to know better, Brock. A slave can’t sit while three free men stand.”
“Ah, he’s quite correct,” the clerk added in that nervous whine of his. “And I’m sure the inspector here needs your slave to stand—”
Will ignored him and turned to Shane. “That’s what happened, ain’t it, Snake Blood?”
Shane stiffened. “You’ll need to be more specific, Lieutenant Talon.”
“Specific?” There was genuine outrage in his pale blue eyes. That same outrage seemed to invigorate his tall, lanky frame. “How’s this for specific? Obsidian mitigated your sentence from death to slavery, and then handed you over to the same mongrel who arrested you and testified against you.”
Shane took a deep breath. He saw, from the corner of his eye, Brock stand up, but he hoped the man had enough sense to stay quiet. No point in allowing Will to make a scene.
“Obsidian spared me, yes.” Shane was careful to keep his voice even. “Eshkeri Robin Weaver handed me over to Brock, since he wanted to place me with family.”
“Family?” Will snorted. “That back-stabber?”
Brock stood up and came to Shane’s side. “You have something to say to me, Will?”
“I’m not saying anything different than the rest of the brethren. You know that, Brock.”
The clerk cleared his throat. “Ah, gentlemen? The, ah, inspector would like to go about his business.”
Will stared at Brock. Brock stared back. Shane readied himself. If it came to fists, he would have to break the two men apart—but finally Will stepped aside.
“Right.” He nodded at the inspector. “Go on, then.”
“Very well,” the inspector answered, all business-like. “I’ll need you to strip,” he informed Shane. “And be brisk about it, bucko.”
Suddenly Will’s armed snaked out and grabbed the inspector by the shoulder. “You listen here, bucko,” Will said. “This man, slave or not, is a lieutenant of the Watch. You damned well better treat him with respect.”
Shane had started to undo his waistcoat—Devon’s waistcoat, rather—but he stopped cold.
“Will,” Brock said, “you know he can’t be a watchman now.”
“I know those blasted white heads at Ironbound will discharge him once they find out he’s alive and enslaved, yes. But that ain’t happened yet. They figured they didn’t need to bother, what with Snake Blood offering himself up on a platter to Obsidian. But as of right now, he’s still a lieutenant.”
Brock stared at him, furrowing his brow, but then slowly nodded. “That’s true. He still has his rank.”
Shane started unbuttoning the waistcoat again. He wasn’t going to get out of this inspection, regardless. But both the clerk and the inspector were suddenly looking cowed.
Small wonder. Shane knew first hand just how adept Will was at intimidating and persecuting those he considered beneath him.
So he undressed as briskly as the inspector had ordered, setting his clothes into a neat pile. Then he withstood the man’s hands on him, testing his muscles. He swallowed a smile as he realized just how tentative the inspector’s touch was, what with Brock and Will watching his every move.
The inspector coughed a little and finally spoke up. “Vasteke, I see. From one of the indigenous tribes in Ancora, I take it, not the ones up north. I count four vertical scars on his back, mostly healed. From a whip, I presume?”
“Yes,” Brock answered. “They’re from twelve years back. We all took a flogging now and again as cadets.”
“And you can see those are his only marks,” Will put in. “This inspection is over.”
Shane watched the inspector gape. “But I haven’t—we’ve hardly started. We don’t know the full state of his health . . . .”
“You can see he’s healthy and able,” Brock said. “You’re finished here.”
The inspector looked from one man to the other—both of whom could easily have pummeled him—and apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He took a piece of parchment from the clerk and then politely but hurriedly bowed his way out of the room.
“Ah, I’ll check and see if our messengers have returned from the temple,” the clerk said. Then he, too, bowed his way out.
Shane rolled his eyes and began to get dressed.
Brock turned back to Will. “Eshkeri Robin has requested that we keep what happened to Shane quiet for now—at least until public interest in the trial fades.”
Will frowned at both of them. “You two will have to tell Captain Barros, at least.”
“I will, on the morrow,” Brock answered. “But will you keep silent about this? At least for a bit?”
Will grunted. “If that’s what the high priest wants, yes. But don’t think, Brock, that this will leave you in any better standing with the rest of us.” He paused to turn to Shane. “I’m glad to see you alive, Snake Blood—”
“Are you?” Shane finished buttoning up his breeches. “We’ve never been the best of mates, Lieutenant Talon.”
“Will,” he corrected. “Call me Will—I don’t need your damned impertinent formality. Look, Shane, you might be a cock-sucking sodomite, but at least you never betrayed your brothers of the Watch. You deserve better than to serve the same cur who stabbed you in the back.”