Some fifteen minutes later, Seymour was sitting on the edge of his bed, using a pocketknife to chip off the mud that had caked, over the past few days, on his only pair of boots. He had nearly finished when he heard a knock upon his door and looked up.
“Who is it?”
“Just me.” It was Seoc’s voice that replied, and Seymour felt a rush of happiness.
Seoc entered, now wearing clean, dry clothes as well, and Seymour’s smile faltered at the dejected look upon his face.
“What is it, little fish? Is something wrong?”
He sighed heavily and collapsed in an armchair with a shrug of his shoulders. “Yeah, but it isna important. Kind o’ stupid, really.”
Seymour set his newly mud-free boots on the stone floor by his feet and put them on, leaving them unbuckled. “You can tell me, Seoc. It seems rather important to you.”
Seoc shook his head. “No, I dinna want ta drag you inta my petty familial issues.”
He felt his blood suddenly run cold. “Your father isn’t here, is he?”
“No, thank Rezyn. My mother told him that she an’ my siblings were goin’ ta visit her brother, an’ my father doesna get on well with Uncle Alasdair, so he elected ta stay at home in Iliathor. No, if you really must know, it’s my little brother. He…he refuses ta speak ta me. I guess Father’s gotten through ta him at long last.”
They lapsed into silence for a moment, listening to the far-away sound of the sheriff’s men pounding on the magically reinforced gate, demanding to be let in.
“Seoc,” Seymour said after a while. “That is important. Of course you would be upset over it. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No. I’m alright. Really, I’ll get over it.”
Outside, they heard the cries of the exhausted but still angry horde joining the guards at the gate. It sounded as if they had brought reinforcements—perhaps the whole of Carvil Crossing.
“What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“After this is all over. You can’t exactly go home, not as long as your father is in Iliathor, can you? Where will you go?”
Seoc leaned back in the chair, closing his dark eyes and biting his lip. “Rionnag, perhaps. That’s where I was born, you know, but I’ve only been there once since we moved away to the capital. ‘Tis a lovely li’l walled city, in the middle o’ a beautiful valley—more o’ a ravine, really, up in the mountains. At night, it seems that you can see a million stars. That’s what the name means, you see. It’s the City o’ Stars.” He smiled vaguely, eyes still closed. “Although I wouldna mind Sichtir. My mam used to take me there when my seizures got really bad, an’ it always helped. I dinna know why, perhaps there’s somethin’ in the air there. It isna nearly as nice as Rionnag, an’ there’s always a sense of somethin’ ancient an’ rather sinister there, but I still like it. An’ Uncle Alasdair still has a place up there, I’m sure he’d let me use it. I might have ta, seein’ as I’ve been disinherited an’ as I’ll have a hell o’ a time findin’ work, now that I’m a convicted homosexual.”
“You could come to Brysail,” Seymour suggested quietly.
Seoc looked at him as if he was out of his mind. “Big cities like that are terribly expensive. Where would I stay?”
The implications of what Seymour was implying suddenly clicked behind Seoc’s eyes and he looked up in surprise. “Are you proposing to me?”
Seymour blushed and looked at the floor. “Well, not officially, but…yes, in a way, I suppose I am.”
Seoc tried to fight back the idiotic grin that was struggling for control of his mouth, but he failed miserably. “Are you…are you serious? I mean, you are no’ jokin’, are you?”
“I’m dead serious. It gets awfully lonely, living on one’s own in the midst of thousands, and I could use some company. My flat isn’t very big, but you’ll fit without a problem. And my career is just taking off, so I can provide for you…in fact, you could be my assistant.”
“But…but I dinna know anythin’ aboot solvin’ mysteries!”
“That doesn’t matter. I can teach you anything you need to know.”
Seoc stood shakily and crossed the narrow length of floor between the armchair and Seymour, who was still sitting on the edge of the mattress, hesitated a moment, then embraced him, his eyes closed and his chin resting on Seymour’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Yes…yes, I suppose I’ll be goin’ ta Brysail, after all.”
Seymour reached around to turn Seoc’s head, and the human felt the Aechyed’s warm breath on his face, light and slightly minty. His heart pounded wildly, so loud that he was certain Seymour could hear it. He placed a small hand on the Aechyed’s chest, discovering in doing so that the other’s was beating just as rapidly, and then it didn’t matter anymore. The noise of the world faded from his ears to be replaced by the sound of blood rushing in his head. He no longer heard the shouts of the men at the castle gates, no longer heard the low rustle of the autumn wind as it gently stripped the forest of its foliage. He did not even hear the sudden rattle of the doorknob as someone turned it, nor did he hear the creak of the hinges as that same someone pushed that same door open.