“None believed to have been directly involved so far,” he said as I took the strawberry he offered, and he picked up a piece of roasted meat for himself. “But there have been a few who suspected that something was going on with those working with Alastir. And some expressed concern about your presence.”
“Well that isn’t that surprising, is it?”
“Not really, but it leaves me wondering exactly how much they truly knew of what the others planned.” His fingers folded around his glass. “My father even believes that the ones involved with the attack may have spoken openly with those who weren’t, basically infecting others with their nonsense.”
Alastir’s and the other’s beliefs and words truly were like an infection, but was it one that could be cured? As we ate, I thought of those who had first attacked me. “The people who were at the Chambers?” I said, and Casteel stilled for a moment before picking up a napkin and wiping his fingers clean. “Once they realized what I was, one of them asked the gods to forgive them.”
A cruel, tight smile formed over the rim of his glass as he took a drink. “They won’t.”
“I…I hope they do.”
His brows lifted. “That is too kind of you, Poppy.”
“They didn’t kill me—”
“They wanted to.”
“Thanks for the unnecessary reminder.”
“It sounds like a very necessary reminder,” he replied flatly.
I resisted the urge to throw the piece of cheese I held. “Just because I hope they’re not wasting away in the Abyss for all eternity doesn’t mean I’m okay with what they tried to do to me.”
“Well, I do.”
I ignored that. “They were obviously very misinformed.”
“What I’m trying to say is they weren’t like Alastir or Jansen or those who wore the Descenter masks. Their minds were made up. Nothing was going to change that.” I tossed the piece of cheese onto the platter. “But the ones at the Chambers? The others who may have known something was going on, or have concerns? Whatever opinions they’ve formed can be changed. It’s not a…fatal infection. They’re not the mindless Gyrms or the Craven.””
“Sounds pretty fatal to me,” he commented.
I took a shallow breath. “If the people in the Chambers had changed their minds before it was too late and they had survived, I wouldn’t want to see them killed now.”
Casteel opened his mouth as he lowered his glass to the cream-hued linen covering the table.
“I know what you’re going to say. You would see them killed. I would see them given a second chance if they were misled. And after,” I stressed, “they were punished appropriately. It’s obvious they were taught or…indoctrinated into this way of thinking. And those who may have known what the others were involved in? The ones who have concerns now? That can be changed.”
He eyed me as he dragged his fingers over the rim of his glass. “You really believe that?”
“Yes. I do. People can’t be killed simply because they have concerns. That is something the Ascended would do,” I told him. “And if we believe that people aren’t able to change the way they think and what they believe or how they behave, then what is the point of giving the Ascended a chance to change their ways? What would be the point of hoping for change in anything?”
“Touché,” he murmured, tipping his glass to me.
“You don’t believe that people are capable of change?” I asked.
“I do,” he admitted. “I just don’t care if they are if they’re the people who’ve harmed you.”
“Oh.” I picked up another small cube of cheese. That wasn’t exactly surprising to hear. I moved onto something we really hadn’t discussed, not even when it was brought up with Jasper. “Well, you need to start caring. I don’t want people killed because they don’t trust me or like me. I don’t want to be a part of that.”
“You’re asking me to care about those who potentially had knowledge of those who have not only betrayed me but also betrayed you,” he countered quietly. “I believe the technical term would be that they committed treason against me and you.”
“Yes, but having beliefs or concerns that have not been acted upon does not immediately equal treason. If there is evidence that they were aware and did nothing, they should, at the very least, have a trial. Or is Atlantia no different than Solis when it comes to due process?”
“Atlantia believes in due process, but there are exceptions. Namely—you guessed it—treason.”
“Still, if people have been misled, they should be given the chance to redeem themselves, Cas.”
His eyes flared an intense shade of amber. “You’re not playing fair, Princess, knowing how much I love hearing you call me that.”
The corners of my lips curved up just the faintest bit.
He tsked softly. “Already wrapping me around your finger.”
I fought the smile. “I’ll only wrap you around my finger if you agree with me.”
Casteel laughed at that. “I agree,” he stated. “But…my condition is that I agree to hear them speak—to state their case. They’re going to have to be really convincing if they have any hope of surviving.”
My shout of victory died a little before it reached my lips. “I don’t like your condition.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“Sorry,” he demurred, not even sounding remotely apologetic. “What I meant to say is that we’re compromising between our two wants. I’m meeting you halfway here. I am giving them a chance.”
I wasn’t sure what chance he was giving, but this was a…compromise. It was also a definite improvement. “Okay. Then I will meet you in the middle.”
“You should since you’re practically getting what you wanted,” he remarked with a grin.
I kind of was, but I wasn’t confident that many would be able to convince him.
Casteel was quiet for a long moment. “And I am serious about giving people a second chance. To allow them to prove that they will not be a concern to us. But if they act upon their feelings, or I suspect they will, I cannot promise I won’t intercede in a non-violent manner.”
“As long as your suspicion is rooted in evidence and not emotion, I can agree with that.”
His lips twisted into a half-smile. “Look at us, agreeing on who to kill and who not to.”
I shook my head. “Which is a conversation I truly never expected to take part in.”
“But you’re so good at it,” Casteel murmured.
I snorted as I toyed with the stem of my glass. “Well, hopefully, it won’t come to that.”
“I hope the same.”
“What about Alastir’s or Jansen’s family?”
“Jansen didn’t have any family still alive, and Alastir’s living members have been contacted or are in the process of being notified of his involvement,” he said. “I don’t believe we will have any problems with them, especially when they learn what happened to Beckett.”