Seoc let his uncle lead him to a bed and lay down.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry for pukin’ on yer floor.”
Alasdair patted him gently on the shoulder. “That’s alrigh’, laddie,” he replied, his accent slipping while not in the presence of Southlanders. “Jist try tae geyt sem rest. If yeh feel any worse, wake me, y’ken? Ah’ll be sleepin’ jist o’er there, near th’end o’ the row if yeh need me.”
Seoc nodded and rolled over onto his side as the mage departed. Eyes half shut, he watched his uncle as he trudged away and collapsed, fully clothed and on top of the sheets, on a cot near the infirmary’s entrance. When he was certain that the older man was asleep, Seoc got up quietly and stole away in the other direction, toward the opposite end of the ward, where Simon was situated. He didn’t see any sign of Henry; presumably he had been moved elsewhere so that his brother wouldn’t become overwrought.
“Simon?” he whispered tentatively.
Simon’s eyes flickered open and lit up. “Seoc!” he squealed, delighted.
Seoc held a finger to his lips. “Shh. I’m no’ supposed ta talk ta you.”
“Oh,” Simon said, slightly more quietly. “Why not?”
Seoc shrugged in reply, looking briefly over his shoulder to ascertain that his uncle had not stirred. “Uncle Alasdair says yer in shock.”
The other man furrowed his brow. “But I’m not in you, Seoc.”
“No, no’ in me,” Seoc snapped. “Shock with an ‘H’. Do I normally talk in the third person?”
Simon frowned. “No. But I do, apparently.”
“What?” Seoc demanded, beginning to feel the familiar frustration that came from attempting conversation with his former cellmate.
“Simon says, ‘sit down,’” Simon exemplified.
Seoc sighed in resignation. What in Rezyn’s name was he on about now? But he did sit down on the cot, as ordered. “Listen, Simon. I need ta ask you somethin’.”
“Simon says, ‘touch your nose.’”
He folded his arms and glared. “Seoc says, ‘shut up an’ listen, you loon!’”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Simon explained. “Simon has to say.”
Seoc threw his hands in the air, flustered. “I dinna understand, Simon. Can we please move on?”
Simon was quiet a moment, then he reached out his arms and hugged him. Startled, Seoc sat there awkwardly for a few heartbeats, his arms sticking out stiffly, before returning the gesture.
“I missed you, Seoc,” Simon told him, sounding suddenly more lucid than Seoc had ever heard him. “Honestly, you are like a brother to me. I’d grown accustomed to your presence, I guess, after two years of your company…it was difficult to let you out of my sight. I wanted to protect you.” He laughed darkly. “I always need to protect somebody, I suppose. Though it seems that Henry needs me more than you do.”
“How is he?”
Simon’s voice had become deeper, less childlike, now that he was speaking sensibly. “They tell me he’ll be all right, but I don’t know what to believe.” He paused and sighed. “Listen, Seoc. I know what he did to you, and it’s inexcusable. I just hope you understand that…that he wasn’t always like this. He used to be so kind, so innocent…And then…well, you of all people ought to know how it is.”
“How what is?”
“To be told that your feelings are wrong, that you’re somehow evil. To know that there are people who won’t hesitate to kill you if they find out. Henry…Henry couldn’t take it. He was afraid, Seoc, so very afraid. And he believed what they said, believed that he was bad. And because he believed, he became. The old Henry, the good one just, well, withered. That’s why he did what he did, because he was scared…and perhaps even a bit jealous. No one’s ever loved him but me, you see,” Simon continued. “Not even our parents did. So it’s understandable that he might have worked himself into a bit of a state over you and Seymour. Not that that excuses his conduct, of course.”
Seoc stared into space for a long moment, considering the implications of Simon’s words. It had never occurred to him that Henry was anything but straight, but this explanation seemed to fit better than any theory he might have dreamt up on his own.
“Seoc?” Simon asked eventually. “You wanted to ask me something?”
“Yes,” Seoc replied. “Aboot Snake. Aboot the Serpent of the Silver Tongue.”
“Ah,” breathed Simon, closing his eyes and laying his head back down on his pillow. “But is that not what I just told you about?”
Simon smiled sagely. “Uh huh. Now, Simon says ‘return to your bed and let me sleep.’ Fair enough?”