“What was that?” Seymour asked the nurse, who was in the process of spreading a healing potion—which the Aechyed recognized, from its strong smell and oily consistency, as the same ointment that he had applied to the infected lash wounds on Seoc’s back some two weeks previously—to his lacerated wrists.
“I don’t know,” she replied, finishing up with the potion and tearing off a strip of gauze with which to wrap the wounds. “It sounded like a bell.”
“It rang three times,” Seymour noted. “Surely it isn’t three in the morning already?”
“It was close to ten at night last time I checked.”
“It could have been ringing in the third quarter of the hour,” Simon pointed out from his position on the flagstone floor, mock-wrestling with the dog.
“True,” Seymour admitted, “But I don’t recall hearing it toll for half-past…”
The nurse paused briefly in her work. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any bells ring like that here, not even on the hour.”
When she had finished bandaging his wrists and ankles, she had him lie down in one of the beds to rest while his own room was being put back in order. He had to adopt something approximating the fetal position to fit on the human-sized mattress. If he had lain normally, his feet—as well as a considerable portion of his legs—would have hung over the end.
“Do you have anything he might take for his fever?” Simon asked the nurse.
She vanished to the storerooms to check for such a medication, leaving Simon, Seymour and the dog to themselves. The only other patient in the ward was at the other end of the room, out of reasonable earshot and probably asleep.
“Something is very wrong,” Seymour said quietly.
“I need to fetch Seoc. Something is off, and I don’t like him being where I…where I can’t protect him.”
“No,” Simon rebuked him adamantly. “You are in no condition to be tearing about the castle.”
“Fiona’s with him,” the human reminded him. “He’ll be fine.”
“I just don’t like it.”
Simon shrugged. “If you’re quite concerned, I can send Raif along to check in on him,” he suggested.
“Raif and I share a very strong mental bond.”
“But Ra—” Seymour stopped, unable to bring himself to speak the name. “But it’s a fucking dog!”
“You know it isn’t.”
Seymour shook his head in exasperation, doing his best not to think about what Simon was implying by making such a statement in so snide a tone. “Fine. Send it. I don’t fucking see how it’ll do any good, but…but yes, I guess it would make me feel better.”
Simon smiled knowingly, and Raif leapt up to trot out of the room, claws clicking and tail wagging. No sooner had it left than there came the sound of quick footsteps in the corridor approaching the infirmary, and Fiona entered, making directly for them, her face stony and her gaze cold.
“What’s wrong?” asked Seoc.
“Where’s Seoc?” Seymour demanded, readying himself to scramble out of bed.
“It’s none o’ yer business where he is,” Fiona snapped at him.
“You left him alone? None of us should be alone on a night like this, not even Henry! Especially not Seoc!”
“He’ll be alright for the few minutes I’m away. An’ who’s ‘us’?”
“I left him alone so that I could ha’e a word wi’ you, merman—”
“Please don’t call me that,” Seymour interrupted. “I find that term very offensive.”
“Do I look as if I care?” Fiona snarled back at him.
“No,” he admitted, a bit taken aback. “You don’t. What is this word that you wish to have with me?”
“I want you,” she spat, “ta stay away frae my brother!”
Seymour frowned, concentrating on channeling his anger into a productive means of communication rather than blowing his top. “If you are set upon ending my contact with Seoc, I suggest you take it up with him, as it was he who initiated our relationship, not I. Although I hardly see why his love life should be of any concern to you.”
“Listen, merman,” she started.
“My name’s Seymour, not merman.”
She hit him hard in the face, right across the bruise that Henry had left there, and he cried out.
“Eh, stop that!” Simon interjected, trying to pull her back from the injured Aechyed. She shook him off easily.
“Listen, merman,” she repeated. “I know that my brother is gay, an’ I’m well aware that there’s nothin’ that will change that! I just want ta protect him!”
“Isn’t he old enough to make his own decisions?”
“He’s disturbed! Damaged! He does no’ know what’s good for him!”
Seymour sat up slowly, rubbing his bruised face. “Listen, bitch,” he hissed.
The Aechyed snorted mirthlessly. “If you insist on mislabeling me as a male siren, I will persist in referring to you as a female dog. So listen, bitch: Seoc is a grown man. I know he has problems. I know…I know he’s been raped. I also know…I also know he’s strong of spirit, and passionate, and bright, and there is nothing in the world for me but him.”
“Weel, that seems a wee bit melodramatic,” she scoffed.
“What else is there? My family is dead. Everyone I’ve ever called a friend is dead. My best friend, the boy to whom I lost my virginity—I watched him burn to death in a plague pit, and now…” He chuckled because it seemed so impossible. “And now it seems he’s been reincarnated as a fat dog with telepathic abilities…but it makes no difference. Without Seoc, I am nothing. I’d go back to living like a fucking animal in my squalid flat, feeling damned sorry for myself while slowly starving to death in a drunken stupor.”
“That only validates my point, merman.”
“How so, bitch?”
“I dinna want my brother involved wi’ an irresponsible drunkard like yerself.”
“I stopped drinking. For him. Because I hated the thought that he would see me like that. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in a week.”
“A whole week?” she remarked sarcastically. “How impressive.”
“Please don’t mock me,” Seymour growled.
Simon intervened before she could respond. “Let him rest, Fiona. He’s been through enough today.”