Kiol shot to his feet and Luaya sprinted off like a rabbit terrified for its life. Nirin latched onto Kiol’s leg to prevent him running after. It would only make them look worse and make the villagers more suspicious.
“Are you done?” Kiol asked gruffly, not taking his eyes from the retreating form. He didn’t wait for Nirin’s affirmation. “Let’s get out of here.” Kiol took off his jacket and put it over Nirin’s shoulders. Nirin paused in standing, reaching up to hold it in place as he straightened. He looked curiously at Kiol.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” he signed. “You must keep warm. I should carry you, too.”
Nirin almost laughed at that. He would not have minded being carried, especially not by Kiol, but he knew it would hinder them. “No,” he signed back. “No need. We must leave quickly.” He was sure the girl would be returning any minute with whatever constituted law enforcement in the tiny village.
They ran from the ruins back into the shelter of the forest. When they were far enough away to avoid getting caught, Kiol stopped walking. Nirin turned back curiously.
“I am sorry,” he signed, eyes stuck on the ground. His sudden grief was like a horrible black wave passing over Nirin’s head, and for a minute he thought he’d drown in it. He took a deep breath.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Nirin signed. Kiol did not look up to read, but he knew what was signed anyway.
“This is my fault. All this trouble. It follows me. My whole life I have brought misfortune upon others. I was not thinking of that when I came with you.”
Nirin frowned. Kiol believed it whole-heartedly, but there was more to his sorrow than that. He had mentioned once that he’d driven his mother away from him.
Nirin stepped forward. Reassuring Kiol that he was wrong wouldn’t change his mind, but Nirin thought there was a deeper fear, small but pin-prick sharp, buried beneath it all. He gripped Kiol’s face, forcing him to look up and meet his eyes. Kiol’s were misty, but his jaw clenched as he fought to hold the emotions back.
Nirin held his head for a few seconds, meeting his gaze fiercely until he was sure Kiol wouldn’t look away. Then he let go to sign. “I’ve faced plenty of misfortune with or without you. Nothing that happens could ever drive me away from you. I am by your side. Now and forever.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Kiol said, slow and heavy. “Kill you. If we are together too long, it could kill you.”
“Do you know what Ruadhan said to me?” Nirin signed. “He told me that we are born worthy, no amount of cultivating can give someone what it takes to be a sacrifice. Since the time of my birth, I’ve had the blood of a god-gifted, even before I sacrificed my voice. And it will have been the same for you.”
Kiol’s shoulders raised and his interest piqued. He watched Nirin with clearer eyes.
“My blood was used to raise crops from infertile ground. To bring life. If yours brings death, then there is no one better suited to be your companion than me.”
Kiol was not sure how to feel. He was not particularly reassured, but he was placated. Nirin decided it would have to be enough for the moment.
“We must get to the next town, Tori will be expecting us to be there and I do not know how quickly she will arrive after she receives my message.”
West Snake Hill was a much larger town than the others they’d passed, and was situated on a hill that made it rise just enough above the fields around it. It was large enough to have more than one street, with all kinds of people out and about. Several sleighs rode over the snow, carrying wood or people or food. Everyone who saw them gave Kiol and Nirin curious glances as they walked into town.
When Kiol realized where Nirin was leading him he stopped walking, forcing Nirin to halt as well and turn to look at him.
“We can’t go there,” he signed. “What if that man sent word?”
Nirin glanced around. “This town doesn’t have a soldier sect.”
“Still!” Kiol set his jaw. “I don’t want to beat up a bunch of disciples trying to keep them from capturing you.”
Nirin had to hide a smile, but he did it poorly, and Kiol’s brow sunk lower. “If we ask to stay anywhere else, the temple will hear of it regardless. And we must stay in this town, it is where Tori will meet us. So we have to take the risk.”
“You said the sigil might not even work.”
“I am sorry.” It was all Nirin could think to say. He specifically hadn’t wanted to drag Kiol along on this trip, and now with its uncertainties and further dangers, he understood it was frustrating. But there was little other choice. He met Kiol’s eyes and he could only hold Nirin’s gaze so long before he had to look away. And so the argument was won, and Kiol followed Nirin to the temple.
The greeting priest’s surprise at their arrival was not more than the usual confusion of two people showing up unannounced in the middle of winter to an unimportant town. She showed them to the guest quarters, a bit more luxurious than the other with its own fireplace, but they received the same rice porridge.
“How long are we staying here?” Kiol asked.
“Until Tori comes,” Nirin replied. Kiol grumbled wordlessly and finished the last spoonful of porridge.
“What are we supposed to do until then?”
Nirin tried not to smile too wide, knowing Kiol’s response before he even spoke. “We help as we’re asked in the temple.” Kiol had the exact reaction as expected.
They finished morning worship and were given the task of airing out bedding. Nirin did not mind at all, but Kiol thought the action below him. He helped because he did not want Nirin working alone with an injured arm, despite Nirin’s assurances that he hardly noticed it.
When six priests walked into the room, Nirin immediately knew. He didn’t have to tell Kiol for the boy to realize soon after. He stood, poised, but Nirin signed before the priests had reached them.
“Don’t do anything, no matter what. Just let them capture us.”
Kiol hissed under his breath. “What if they hurt you?”
Kiol didn’t believe him, even knowing he should. Nirin turned to face the priests as they stopped several paces away. The lot of them looked far more scared of the boys than vice versa. The head priest stepped forward from the rest.
“Under the authority of the Society of Creator, you two are under arrest for murder, injuring a head priest, and cult practices. If you come quietly you will be treated with respect.”
Nirin dipped his head. Four priests moved to take either sides of the boys. When they gripped their arms, Kiol shouldered free and they skittered back, fully dissolving any intimidation they may have been attempting.
“Don’t touch him,” Kiol growled, grabbing Nirin and pulling him closer. Nirin stepped back obligingly into Kiol’s chest. He did not feel unsafe, but the pressure of their bodies together had a certain security that was as relieving as it was pleasing.
“We will come,” Nirin signed. “No need for force.” The ‘guards’ all looked to the head priest who nodded, and they trudged on together through the temple.
Their things were taken and they were placed in a tiny holding cell. Any situation that was above the local authority warranted waiting for the closest soldier regimen to show up. It was a far cry from the comfort of the temple guest quarters, with no fireplace and barren of even a straw mat. They sat on frozen dirt and stared at the iron bars holding them in.
“Why did we allow this again?” Kiol asked.
“We can always escape,” Nirin replied. Even Kiol knew the sigils now.
“Then why don’t we? We can live outside town until Tori comes.”
“They’ll feed us here,” Nirin signed with a smile. Kiol was not amused. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the stone wall, despite the fact that it must have been frigid and easily cut through the two layers he was wearing.
“If you get sick again in this stupid place…” he muttered, but didn’t elaborate. Nirin nodded sympathetically and moved closer. Without looking, Kiol opened his arm and Nirin pressed to his side.
It was not… unpleasant. Kiol didn’t mind the cold during the day, which helped Nirin ignore it. At night it got bitterly cold and they had to stay close together for warmth, huddled towards each other and shivering under Nirin’s wool outer-robe. Kiol complained that the priest must have wanted them to freeze to death before they even received justice, and Nirin didn’t have the heart to tell him they likely did. It was a nuisance and a source of fear to have criminals, wrongfully accused or not, in an undefended town.
Nirin woke to the rickety wooden door being opened and sat up. Kiol was already awake, likely had been for hours, and had moved Nirin’s head to his lap.
Based on the six vests in the doorway, soldiers had finally come to take them after three days. Kiol worried they would recognize him, but they weren’t soldiers that had ever been to the capital. They looked them over with mild interest.
“These the criminals?” one asked the head priest who had come with them.
“Yes,” she answered nervously. Soldiers were not common in her parish, and neither were murderers. “Gendith said they are more dangerous than they look. The freckled boy knocked him out in seconds.” The soldiers nodded again, uninterested and unheeding. Priests were not known for their fighting prowess, quite the opposite, so they didn’t see how one getting bested was anything of note.
Kiol looked at Nirin, raising his eyebrows in silent question. Nirin didn’t know. If these men took them, Tori likely wouldn’t be able to find them. But causing more trouble and drawing more attention seemed a foolish thing to do.
The head priest handed keys over and a soldier stepped up to the cell door. As the metal pieces jingled together Kiol’s question grew more urgent. Nirin scrambled to make a decision. He was saved the trouble. Before the soldier had opened the cell, a voice called out to stop him.
“I’m sorry, I’m afraid these two are in our custody.”
Chapter 40<< >>Chapter 42