“You well enough, Shane?”
Shane glanced at Brock, considering the question. They’d been walking in silence back down Pike. It was a mostly residential street, shaded by young maples. It tended to be quiet, as it was almost too narrow for carriages or wagons. The one crowded spot was the public well with the little market around it, down where the road widened. But they were only headed as far as Brock’s house—no, not just Brock’s house. Home.
“I am,” he said at last. “I have a shiny new slave tag, after all.” He tapped the bit of engraved metal that now hung around his neck. “I also have an official pass signed by my new master.”
Brock grunted. “Your mongrel cur of a master?”
He bit back a grin. “I don’t think you’re much in favor with Will.”
“He’s got a damned viperous tongue—but most of the brethren agree with him. They all think I betrayed you.”
“The only betrayal, Brock, is your refusal to believe me. I didn’t murder Harris.”
“Even if I did believe you, I still would have had to arrest you.”
“I know.” Shane paused. “If Will is any indication, you’re going to have a devil of a time with the others.”
“I’ll handle it. Meanwhile, at least you’ll be welcomed back with open arms. Even by Will, apparently.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “What do you make of that? Suddenly I’m his best mate?”
“I don’t know that I’m surprised.” Brock scrunched up his forehead. “He’s a loyal bastard when it comes to his fellow watchmen.”
“One of his rare virtues, I suppose.” Shane shook his head a little, trying to shake off the memory from twelve years ago. “Will’s a skilled enough detective, too. I’ll give him that.”
“True. Fuck, I still want him punished—but he’s an asset, no question.”
Shane stopped short.
Brock followed suit. “What’s wrong?”
“Listen to me, mongrel. If you make captain, promise me you won’t go after Will.”
Shane gave him a look. “Don’t try to punish him for what happened twelve years back.”
“You refused to press charges at the time, remember? Hell, you wouldn’t even report him.” Brock folded his arms across his chest. “I can’t go after him now.”
“You could make his life a living hell. And, knowing you, it would all be by the book.”
For a moment, it looked like Brock would object. But that he let out a long-suffering sigh instead. “Very well. I promise. But I need a promise in exchange, Snake Blood.”
“And that is?”
Brock took his time about answering. “I don’t think . . . I don’t think Will intends to pull something like that again.”
“He’s no longer a drunken eighteen year old. And the mates that helped him—they didn’t even make it through cadet-hood.”
“Right. So I don’t think you’re in any danger from him. But if anything were to happen, I need you to tell me. Whether it’s Will or someone else.” Brock hesitated. “And I need you to leave the consequences in my hands.”
Shane felt his face heat up. “Protecting your property?”
Brock stared at him. “Your tongue is as poisonous as Will’s, do you know that?”
“It’s worse, I reckon. But that doesn’t change anything.”
Brock glanced up at the sky before meeting his eyes again. “Look, it’s my responsibility to keep you safe. And if anyone harms you, it’s my right to press charges.”
“The perpetrator would only be fined for damaging your chattel.”
“Regardless, I expect you to tell me, and I expect you to let me take care of it. Do I have your word?”
“My word? What in hell does my word mean to you?”
Brock opened his mouth, but whatever he meant to say died on his lips. He gave a brittle laugh instead and then shook his head. “I’ll tell you something, Shane. I ought to have left you at the temple to become a fucking priest.”
And with that he turned and started back down Pike. He didn’t even glance over his shoulder to see if Shane was following.
“Clouds!” Katie said, pointing up to the sky.
Brock, who was lying on the ground next to her, face up, nodded at the blue sky strewn with puffy, fair weather clouds that looked suspiciously like a mastodon and her youngster. “Yes, those are clouds.”
Katie stared at them a moment longer, but then promptly lost interest. She scrambled to her feet and ran toward the young elm tree in the south-eastern corner of the yard. There were low hanging branches she could swing from—hell, pretty soon she’d be climbing up them. But that day hadn’t come yet. Not quite. Brock pushed himself up and went after her. Nothing wrong with swinging like a monkey as far as he was concerned, but if she dislocated another elbow he would hear it from Emma.
By the time he reached her, she had her hands clasped on the lowest branch—but she wasn’t swinging. She was trying to walk her feet up the trunk instead. Perhaps the day for climbing had arrived after all. None of his other cubs had tried it until they were over two, but she was frighteningly active for her age.
“Going to let her climb?”
Brock swore under his breath and turned to face Shane. This was the second time in as many days that he had allowed someone to sneak up on him. But he could forgive himself, in Shane’s case. The man moved as silently as a lynx in soft snow, and he could keep as still as an Aishling tomb when he was so minded.
“I’m curious to see how far she’ll get.”
Shane nodded. “She won’t do any damage to herself even if she slips. Not at that height, I reckon.” He turned away from his calculations to face Brock, offering up a half-smile. “I’d make for a lousy priest.”
Brock grinned. “You would. Does that mean you’ll promise to report any, ah, incidents, should you return in some capacity to the Watch?”
“It does. You have my word.”
“Thank you.” He paused as Katie lost her grip and fell to the ground.
“Uh-oh,” Brock said. “Are you all right, Katie-bird?”
“Uh-oh,” she repeated. And she didn’t cry. She did, however, give the branch an offended look for daring to drop her. Then she took on an expression of sheer determination as she grabbed the branch again and gave the whole climbing business another try.
Brock grinned, but then his face grew serious as he turned to his friend. “Shane, I want you to know something.”
“I didn’t stop investigating after I arrested you. Believe me, I wanted it to be anyone but you. But all the evidence—”
“I know.” He nodded at Katie. “She’s like you. And me. She won’t be an academic, nor much of a spinner or seamstress.”
“Look, if I could train her up for the Watch, I would.”
“We can train her to fight when she’s older. And we can train Nance and Alice now. I put my money on Katie, though, for really taking to it.”
Brock stared at him. “To what end? You think I’m going to put a sword or a hatchet in my daughters’ hands?”
Shane took a deep breath. “You remember, as well as I do, the bodies of those girls that Harris killed. I think you want your daughters to be able to fight to defend themselves. Teach them to scream, bite, kick—to use anything at hand for a weapon—in order to get loose and run away.”
He did remember. And, after a moment, he nodded. “You’re right. We can teach them that much. Even Emma ought to see the need for it.” He watched as Katie tried to swing a leg up onto the branch. “Cane might have the makings for a good watchman. But Ian—for all his interest in the military, he’s an academic. Just like Dev.”
“The two aren’t mutually exclusive. The military needs brains. Send him to University and then, perhaps, he’ll be ready for a commission.”
Brock grunted. “That would be easy enough if money grew on trees.”
“You’re a wealthy man now, Brock. There’s no point in pretending otherwise.”
“I’m not taking your brass to spend on my cubs.”
“What did you think I meant to do with that all that brass? Your cubs are the closest I have to my own.”
“This is not up for discussion.”
To his surprise, Shane shrugged and let it drop. “Very well. Brock, I want to see your notes.”
“On the Harris murder?”
“Yes. Later on today, if possible. After Devon and I return with my things.”
Brock sighed as Katie slipped again, yet remained undaunted. “I’ll gather them up while you’re gone.”