Seoc could hardly tell anymore what was real and what was the nightmare. The two had blended together so seamlessly: the dark room, the threat of death, the way in which the situation had elements of logic and yet made no sense, the knowledge that he was being used as a bargaining chip for a deal in which he did not rightfully belong. Only when Henry cut his thorny bonds did the two overlapping scenes separate in Seoc’s mind.
He stood there a moment, shocked by his newfound freedom, then slowly came to his senses. His ankles and wrists were bloodied, the skin mangled with punctures and tears, and his neck stung, the shallow cut slowly weeping. His mouth was as dry as parchment, and his trousers were wet.
Trembling, he edged carefully away from Henry—who had turned his full attention to Seymour—and found himself apprehended by Simon and Fiona, who caught him by the arms and herded him out of the room.
“No,” he protested, thinking of Seymour, bound up in briers and facing an armed madman alone. “No! Sey!”
“It’s alright, Seocan,” Fiona assured him in a whisper, jostling him down the corridor with Simon’s aid.
But it wasn’t alright. Seoc couldn’t see any way in which this could possibly be alright. “No! Can…no’…leave him like that! Let me…go!”
“Seymour will be fine, Seoc,” said Simon.
“But he has no way ta defend himself!” Seoc retorted. “He’s tied up in vines! Plus, he’s ill and exhausted! We can no’ leave him alone like that!”
“It’s more important,” explained Fiona, “That we get you safely away frae there. No one else must ever know that you were in the merman’s bedroom, Seocan, you ken? Once ye’re in yer own room, Simon or I can go ta fetch Uncle Alasdair so that he can get control o’ Henry. An’ I’m sure I can steal some potion ta put on yer cuts so that they’ll heal quickly an’ wi’out scarrin’. No one must ever suspect.”
Seoc knew that she was right, and yet it seemed so unfair. Had it been anyone other than himself in that room when Henry had attacked, their activities therein would not even have come into question. But since it had been him, Seoc Andrew MacInnes, who everyone in the castle probably knew to be gay, and who was considered, at least by members of his family, to be relatively promiscuous, the common assumption would be that he and Seymour had been having sex. Which wasn’t true.
But he had no way to disprove it.
And, now that he thought of it, his presence in that room, if it were widely known, would be worse for Seymour’s as-of-yet clean record than it would have been for his own already tarnished one. The Aechyed’s survival chances were better as it was, left to fend for himself against Henry, than they would have been if Seoc was found there with him.
He stopped struggling and docilely let Fiona and Simon help him to his room.