Mariana had to turn away as she listened. There was truth in Shenado’s words. She knew there was. And it gave her pause. The choice in her head wasn’t quite so clear anymore.
‘I know it is difficult,’ Shenado went on, ‘but think about this carefully. Yes, Marcos is only twelve. But Ramira is only nine. Emiliana is confused and distraught and looking to you for guidance. We don’t even know where Francisco is. Hopefully, only captured. And then there’s Gema. Obviously, she’s gotten herself involved in something big and terrible. Wherever she is, I’m sure she could use your help, too.’
That argument almost convinced her. Almost. She steeled her expression. ‘I am not going to let Marcos die. And I am not abandoning them. I am leaving them in your care.’
It was Shenado’s turn to hesitate.
‘They won’t need me to guide them when they have you,’ said Mariana. ‘They’re practically your children as much as mine. It won’t just be Marcos. Not really. You’ll take care of them all. I know you will.’
‘I can’t protect them from physical threats.’
‘Yes, you can. Not with your body, but with your mind. By being smart. And by teaching them to be just as much so. We’ve already started. They know how the world is. Now, they will see it firsthand. And you will be there for them.’
‘Please, Shenado. I’ve made up my mind.’
‘...And what if I refuse?’
‘Then I will never forgive you for as long as I live. And you might as well find a new servant, anyway, because I will never listen to any requests you make of me ever again.’
‘...I thought you would threaten to kill me.’
‘I would have been bluffing, and you would have known it. But make no mistake, if there ever came a day when the rest of my children were finally out of danger, I would certainly kill you for letting Marcos die today.’
Shenado sighed publicly, drawing looks from Emiliana and Octavia as they proceeded down a long hallway together. ‘Fine,’ the reaper said privately. ‘I’ll release you. You were always mean to me, anyway.’
‘I bet Marcos will be nice to me.’