Vadin looked over the rows of prisoners. He counted almost forty. “Knights.” He shook his head, and looked at the pile of confiscated swords. “With luck, their families will pay their…” He moved a shield to get a better look at the hilt of the sword half hidden beneath it, and then his gaze went back to the prisoners. Their heads were bowed, and with dirt and blood on them it was hard to tell them apart. Silently, he walked down the row.
He stopped near the end of the third row. None of the men looked up. Vadin turned towards the nearby guard. “Who captured these men?”
The guard gestured, and an older man in somewhat mismatched armor stepped forward. “My men and I did.” The older man shifted nervously.
A conscript. Vadin looked him over. The weapon at the man’s side was more sickle than sword. One of the many farmers that had been pulled into the army. He looked down again at the men on their knees, with their hands bound behind their backs, then turned towards his assistant. The prisoners wore loops of rope that functioned as leashes, keeping them from attempting to flee. All of them had been gagged by strips of cloth, most of which had been torn from the prisoners’ own clothing. “Tandil, see that these men are given purses of twenty gold crowns, and a writ for no less than ten acres apiece before being given leave to return to their homes.”
“Yes, my lord.” His assistant didn’t bat an eye.
The conscript, on the other hand, stared in shock. “My lord?”
A slow smile came to Vadin’s face. He reached down at caught the chin of the man in front of him, and saw despair come to the faces of the men nearby. He forced the young man’s head up until the prisoner was looking him in the eye. His thumb brushed a bit of dirt from the captive’s face in a gesture that was almost tender. “Corporal, I would like you to meet Prince Ethan.”
Two guards brought the prince into the tower Vadin had taken over as his headquarters. Vadin lead them to his workspace. He saw the young man’s eyes flick over to the various items strewn about the room before returning to Vadin himself. Vadin smiled slightly before picking up one of the items on the table and setting it in the fireplace. He turned back to his guest. The prince’s rope collar had been exchanged for one of steel, and the end of the chain was held by one of the guards. Heavy steel shackles kept the young man’s wrists behind his back. He’d left the gag in place.
Vadin gave the prince a closer look. If it hadn’t been for the ruby falcon on the sword’s hilt, he would likely have never realized the young man was among the prisoners. Which was undoubtedly what the prince’s guards had been hoping. He tilted his head. His bastard’s killer was less impressive than he had been expecting, even knowing luck had been the deciding factor in that particular battle. Luck that had apparently abandoned the prince. There was fear in the amber eyes.
He walked to the prince slowly, stopping a pace away. Drawing his dirk resulted in the barest trace of a flinch from the prisoner. He trailed the point of the blade along the young man’s jawline before sliding it between his skin and the cloth that served as a gag. The sharp blade cut the material easily. “Prince Ethan.”
“Lord Vadin.” The young man’s voice was slightly hoarse from dryness.
The dirk slid easily back into its sheath. “I imagine your brother would pay a great deal to have you back unharmed.” He shrugged. “He’s going to be rather disappointed.”
Prince Ethan straightened his back. “I’ll not give you information. Not even under torture.”
A brave boast. And they both knew it was a lie. “I am not going to torture you for information.” He saw confusion flicker briefly on the younger man’s face. “To be blunt, you do not possess any information useful to me.” The edges of his mouth curled up, revealing a hint of teeth. “I am going to torture you because it pleases me to do so.” He patted the prince’s cheek, then turned towards where his assistant was standing. “How was our young friend here taken?”
“According to the report, he and the soldiers taken with him learned we were coming and hid in a farmhouse.” Milir looked down at a piece of parchment. “By chance, one of that company was stealing eggs and noticed. The unit surrounded the farmhouse, said they’d kill anyone who exited without throwing down their weapons, then set the building on fire.”
“Efficient.” Vadin let out a low chuckle. “Before that man leaves, offer him a commission, complete with caste elevation.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He turned back to the prince. “I’m guessing we’ll find your gilded armor somewhere among the ashes? Stay with the men, and hope to get ransomed before anyone figures out who you really are.”
“That was the plan.” The prince set his shoulders defiantly.
“Separate out the men taken with him.” Vadin nodded to Milir. “Then, in order of age and rank, have them boiled alive.”
“No.” The prince tried to step forward, only to be jerked back by the collar around his neck.
“One every morning, before breakfast.” Vadin continued. “Make sure the others, including our friend here, watch.”
“You can’t.” Prince Ethan shook his head frantically. “The Conventions demand…”
He backhanded the prince, causing the young man to stagger and be pulled back by the collar. Vadin waited until the prince stopped choking and stood upright again. “The Conventions forbid summary executions, and demand prisoners be offered for ransom.” He chuckled. “Look at me, boy.” He waited until the prince met his eyes. “I am the Lord of the West. Your Prelates will be offered the same choice as the rest of your pathetic people. Kneel, or burn.” Vadin reached out and caught his chin, then tilted the younger man’s head to one side. “But perhaps we can come to an arrangement. You want me to spare your soldiers?”
“Yes.” The prince swallowed.
A small amount of blood trickled from the wound he’d opened on the young man’s cheek. Vadin removed a kerchief from his pocket, and wiped the blood away. “Unchain his hands.” He stepped back.
The guard that wasn’t holding the chain immediately moved to comply. The prince stared at him. He rubbed his freed wrists. “What is your price?”
“You.” Vadin folded his arms. “Your cooperation, and your obedience.”
“I…” Prince Ethan shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“I want King Robert to know that while he flails at my armies, his little brother kneels at my feet.” He showed his teeth. “I want him to know he cannot even protect his own heir apparent from me. You can watch your friends die in agony, one by one, and spend the rest of your days in the smallest oubliette I can find, emerging only when I feel like hearing you scream. Or you can take a knee.”
“I…” He looked down. His left hand rubbed his right elbow. “You’ll let all the prisoners go. And you won’t retaliate against those who tried to shelter us.”
“I will even give them free passage to go with your soldiers, and permit them to take their belongings.” Vadin unfolded his arms.
Prince Ethan took several deep breaths. Then he looked up at Vadin. “I…” He swallowed, and closed his eyes. He took another deep breath, and then knelt, bowing his head once more. “I agree to your terms.”
“Take the collar off him.” Vadin gestured to the guard before turning to Milir. “Have the first finger on the right hand of each of the soldiers removed. If the prince proves to me he will keep his word, they may go.”
“Yes, my lord.” Milir bowed and left.
Vadin waved the guards back to stand at the door, and looked down at the kneeling man. “Stand up.” His newest slave obeyed. A slow smile came to his face. “Strip.”
“I…” Ethan blinked when he looked up at Vadin. “What?”
“Remove your clothing.”
For a moment, he thought the young man was going to balk already. Then he bit his lip and began to remove his tunic. He started to toss it aside, and Vadin shook his head. “Fold it and put it there.” Once the young man was naked, Vadin walked a slow circle around him. He didn’t miss the amused and rather interested look on the face of the taller guard, and filed it away for later use. Vadin ran a hand along the younger man’s bare shoulders, and saw him tense. His skin was flush, and he was staring once more at the ground. “In the fireplace I placed a brand. Put it to your left shoulder, and hold it there for a count of ten.”
It took several heartbeats before Ethan stumbled towards the fireplace. He grabbed the end of the brand, and took a deep breath before removing it from the heat. The end glowed red. He stared at it, and then closed his eyes before putting it to his shoulder. Ethan screamed and fell to his knees, but held it in place for several seconds before flinging it away from him.
He gave the young man a minute to collect himself, and walked back over to his desk. Vadin looked over reports until the gasping had subsided. “Come here.” Soft footfalls informed him of Ethan’s compliance. He turned, and looked at the brand. His sigil stood out in stark red and black on the prince’s pale skin. It would form a clean scar. He raised his eyes to Ethan’s face. The amber eyes were slightly hollow, and a bruise was slowly starting to spread across his cheek. “Kneel.” Ethan sank to his knees, and Vadin caught his chin, forcing the man to continue looking at him. “You will address me as master.”
“Yes…” Ethan swallowed. “Master.”
Vadin ran his thumb over the young man’s lips, and with his free hand he began unfastening his belt. He saw Ethan’s eyes widen. “Open your mouth.”
Ethan rested his head against the wooden post before looking again at his bound wrists. Bound was an overstatement. Lord Vadin had simply wrapped the cord around his wrists once before tying a simple bow. He could free himself in less than a second. He shifted slightly, and felt pain bloom anew where the brand had seared him. It wasn’t the pain making him want to vomit.
Jakob and Vincent would get to his brother. Rescue would be coming. He just had to… He banged his head into the wooden post. A couple days. Long enough for his men to get enough of a head start. An opportunity for escape would come.
He raised his head and looked around the room. Under other circumstances, it might have been a pleasant chamber. Most of the furnishings were a pale wood, curved and carved in graceful patterns that revealed them to be Dsigo in origin. No two of the tapestries appeared to have the same origin. With a start, he realized he knew the one hanging near the fireplace. Last time he’d seen it, it had been hanging in Lord Abernath’s hall.
The bed was a much darker wood. All four posts were thick and heavy, carved in runes. He took a closer look at the one he was currently tied to, but saw nothing among the runes that he recognized as dwarven.
Footsteps approached the door, and he tensed. They passed by, and he closed his eyes before resting his head on the post again. Lord Vadin had tied him to the bed post with a child’s knot. He could still feel the man’s hand on his neck. “It is time for the victory feast. My soldiers would be upset if I was not present.” Lord Vadin had run a hand down his spine, stopping at the small of his back. “But after, I shall return to…” His breath had tickled Ethan’s ear. “Attend to you properly.”
With the curtains drawn over the window, he had no way to know how long he’d been standing there. A servant had entered to place more wood upon the fire and set a hamper on the hearth, but she’d not acknowledged his presence in the room. The fire was starting to get low again.
From the hallway came footsteps. This time, the door opened. Lord Vadin entered, and closed the door behind him. The lock clicked. Ethan swallowed, and tried to keep his breathing steady. He wasn’t sure showing Lord Vadin he was afraid was in his best interest. The warlord hung his cloak on a hook, then followed it with his sword belt before walking over to the fireplace. He stirred the fire briefly before adding two more logs. And then he walked to a cabinet, removed an iron, and set it in the fire to heat.
Tears pricked at the back of his eyes. He closed his eyes briefly to suppress them. When he opened them again, he found Lord Vadin looking at him, an amused smile on his face. “You missed quite the feast. Perhaps next time I shall have you attend as my cupbearer.” The warlord walked towards him, and caught his arm before looking down at the cord that bound his hands. Lord Vadin smirked before pulling one end of the cord and undoing the knot. He pointed to the small cupboard. “Pour my wine. The ruby decanter.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan gave him a wide berth as he moved to obey. Lord Vadin’s eyes made him keenly aware that he had not been permitted to redress. He fought the urge to try to cover his nudity, knowing doing so would just entertain the warlord further. Despite his best efforts, his hands shook slightly as he poured the wine into one of the silver goblets. He replaced the decanter, and shut the cabinet before bringing the goblet to Lord Vadin.
Lord Vadin caught his wrist in one hand before taking the goblet from him with the other. He sipped at the wine, and then set the goblet down on the small table next to the bed. He tugged Ethan a step closer, and caught his chin with his free hand. Ethan forced himself to remain still as Lord Vadin’s thumb gently caressed his mouth. “Go to the wardrobe, and make a selection from the items hanging on the door. Bring that and one of the vials.” He released Ethan.
“Yes, master.” He walked to the wardrobe. He opened it, and his stomach twisted. A selection of whips and flails hung on the door. His eyes went to the interior of the wardrobe, and he fought the urge to vomit. A small shelf held a series of small metal vials. He grabbed one at random, trying not to look at what else waited within. Slowly, he reached for one of the hanging items, and then he drew his hand back. He took a deep breath, then grabbed what looked like a riding crop before shutting the wardrobe again.
The vial was set on the table next to the wine glass. Lord Vadin ran a hand down the riding crop, and nodded. “Have you ever been whipped before, Ethan?”
He swallowed. “No, master.”
Slowly, Lord Vadin ran the end of the riding crop down his cheek and neck, stopping halfway down his belly. He tilted his head, then ran it back up him until it brushed against the brand. Ethan flinched. Lord Vadin set the crop down on the bed, then removed a small jar from his belt pouch. He opened it, then took a step closer to Ethan. Gently, he spread an ointment over the burned skin. It stung, and then the pain faded. He closed the jar, and set it next to the vial. Then he caught Ethan’s hair and pulled Ethan a step closer before kissing him. Ethan forced himself to remain still. Lord Vadin released him a moment later, and shook his head. “Would you like to be whipped, Ethan?”
“No, master.” Fear made the words come out shaky.
Lord Vadin nodded before putting his hand on the back of Ethan’s neck. “Then let’s try that again, shall we?” He leaned forward to kiss Ethan.
This time, when Lord Vadin’s tongue probed at his lips, Ethan opened his mouth. He fought the urge to gag. Lord Vadin caught his lower lip between his teeth, tugging it slightly before letting him go again. “Better.” He touched Ethan’s cheek. “I can see it in your eyes. Running the numbers. Trying to figure out how long you dare wait before trying to escape.” He shoved Ethan to his knees, then set one of his boots in front of him. “Assist me.”
It took two tries before his numb fingers could unfasten the buckles. He removed the boot, then went to work on the second one. He was most of the way finished when Lord Vadin ran fingers through his hair. He couldn’t quite suppress the shudder. “It is an interesting challenge, certainly.” Lord Vadin continued speaking. “Keeping you from escaping will be easy enough. I need merely point to the fate that will await every other prisoner I take. Your people can be nothing more than torches, lighting the way for my army.” Lord Vadin’s lips curled slightly. “Do you understand, Ethan?”
“Yes, master.” Escape or break his word, and the other prisoners would be burned alive.
As soon as the second boot was removed, Lord Vadin’s hand tightened in his hair, pulling him back upward. He gestured, and Ethan began undoing the buckles on the armored doublet. Lord Vadin released his hair. “Your brother has no choice but to mount a rescue operation. He dare not leave his heir in my hands. And your brother is a rather competent opponent, he may even be successful in freeing you.” Lord Vadin shrugged out of the doublet, and gestured for Ethan to set it on the nearby rack. He saw Lord Vadin pick up the vial, and pour a drop of something onto his fingers.
He grunted as Lord Vadin spun him around and slammed him chest-first into the bed post. Lord Vadin’s arm pressed against his neck, and the larger man used his body to hold him in place. “The question is can I break you before he can rescue you?”
Vadin moved his hand down the small of the captive’s back, then trailed an oil slicked finger between the young man’s buttocks. He was immediately rewarded by the young man struggling to escape from the touch, and he leaned forward, pressing him against the bed post. “Tell me, Ethan, has anyone bedded you before?”
It took several seconds for the younger man to respond. “No, master.”
“Well then…” Vadin chuckled in his ear. “Far be it from me to begin the festivities without the foreplay.” He stepped back, releasing his grip on the prince. The crop was still sitting on the stand. He smiled, and then picked up the length of cord he’d used to bind Ethan earlier. “Lay face down on the bed.”
When the young man obeyed, he grabbed his arms. Swiftly, he bound his hands together above his head, securing him to the headboard. This time, he used an actual knot. Then he retrieved two more lengths of cord, and moved to the end of the bed. He heard a small whimper as he secured Ethan’s ankles, spreading his legs a couple feet apart. He trailed a hand up Ethan’s inner thigh as he walked back to the head of the bed. Then he picked up the riding crop. “I am going to hurt you now, Ethan.” He caressed the back of the younger man’s neck. “You may scream, if you like. You may even beg. In fact, I encourage you to indulge in both.” He brought the crop down across Ethan’s shoulders.
Ethan tried to bite back the cry. “Why do this?”
“I enjoy it.” Lord Vadin smiled. “Immensely.” He gently caressed Ethan’s buttocks before bringing the riding crop down on them to elicit another yelp. The next blow was across the thighs, before he moved up again to Ethan’s back. He counted the heartbeats between blows, spreading them out across the young man’s body so that the sting had time to settle in properly. He paused after twenty strokes, setting the riding crop down on Ethan’s back.
The wine was a rather robust red, suitable for the occasion. He finished the goblet, then went to the cabinet to pour himself another glass. His pace was slow and measured as he walked back to the bed. He set the goblet down, and turned to admire his work. Red welts were forming, criss-crossing across Ethan’s body. He heard the young man gasp as he picked the riding crop back up. “I wonder if your brother will even want you back, once I’ve finished with you.” He brought the crop down again, harder than he had in the previous blows. The skin reddened almost immediately, and a scream tore from Ethan’s throat. The third blow split the skin across Ethan’s shoulders, causing a thin line of red blood to well up. By the time he’d counted off twenty again, there were four other bleeding welts, and sobs were starting to escape the bound man. He could feel himself starting to get hard, and he set the crop back down on Ethan’s back before reaching once more for the wine.
“He may not.” He traced a finger along one of the welts, causing Ethan to squirm and gasp. “You see, it will not be long before you begin to enjoy the taste of the whip.” He ran a hand down Ethan’s back, brushing the welts. Then he picked up the crop again. “I’m going to start beating you properly now, Ethan. I will stop when you beg me to fuck you.”
It took another twenty three lashes.