He tried to bite back the words. It seemed like everything between his neck and knees was awash with flames. Ethan had prayed for the gods to deliver him into unconsciousness, but they were silent. The warlord set the crop down next to him. For a moment, everything else in the world washed out of focus and the thing was all he could see. “What did you say, Ethan?”
The silence dragged on. His breath came in ragged gasps. And then the warlord picked up the weapon once more. Courage deserted him. “Fuck me.”
A hand tangled in his hair, and lifted his head. The warlord’s lips all but brushed his ear as the man bent down to speak. “Say please.”
Ethan felt tears burning the back of his eyes. “Please fuck me.”
“Ethan…” The warlord’s voice was mocking. “Is that the proper way to address me?”
“Please…” Ethan swallowed. “Fuck me, master.”
Vadin’s hand ran down his back again, brushing against the welts. Ethan gasped. And then the man’s hand was between his legs. He bit back a cry as the man forced a finger inside him. “You want me…” The finger withdrew, and then two entered him. The man wiggled them, and Ethan felt himself start to shake. “To fuck you.”
He tried to stay silent, and then the man traced a fingernail across one of the welts. It felt like a hot blade. “Yes, master.”
Once again, the fingers withdrew. For just a moment, he dared to hope that the warlord was just toying with him, that the man wouldn’t actually go through with… And then the man was straddling him. Ethan yanked at the ropes that bound him to the bed, but between them at the weight of the man his struggles were futile. He hadn’t been able to get the man very far into his mouth, and now… He groaned as he felt the man slide slowly into him.
“You’re tight.” Lord Vadin ran a hand down his side again as he leaned forward, forcing his way still deeper.
One of Lord Vadin’s hands tangled in his hair, yanking as the man slid his full length into him. He gasped, gripping the bed clothes tightly in both hands, fighting to remain still as the man withdrew all but the tip before slamming into him again. He buried his face in the mattress to muffle the cry, only to have Lord Vadin yank his head upright.
He chuckled, then struck the back of Ethan’s thigh in a stinging blow that made him jump and yelp. He tightened his grip on Ethan’s hair before hitting him again, then he simply caught Ethan’s hip. His fingers dug in brutally, and he moaned slightly as Ethan tried to squirm away from the pain. Slowly, he began to thrust in and out. His rhythm picked up speed.
There was one last hard thrust, and then he felt Lord Vadin start to twitch. The man let out a soft groan, and then caressed Ethan’s shoulder. “Say thank you.”
He swallowed. His voice was hoarse when he spoke. “Thank you, master.”
Ethan knelt with his hands secured behind his back. Lord Vadin had wrapped a cord around his elbows, tightening it until Ethan had cried out from the pain in his shoulders. Then he’d secured them. A collar was fastened to a wooden post by a short chain, preventing him from standing even had his feet not also been bound. Lord Vadin had gagged him with a metal ring that held his mouth open wide enough to be almost painful.
Then he’d left the room.
His knees were aching from kneeling on the cold stone floor. He shivered in the drafty air. Lord Vadin seemed content to keep him naked. And no servant had come in to tend the fire. Perhaps that was best. In addition to the humiliation of being naked, bound, and on his knees, with his mouth held open by the metal ring he couldn’t stop himself from drooling.
The healer had visited just after dawn. Her magic had healed the welts, as well as the abrasions the ropes had left on his wrists and ankles. Lord Vadin had untied him. His breakfast had consisted of Lord Vadin’s leftovers, scrapped into a bowl and served on the floor, where he’d been made to eat like a dog. He’d been given a few minutes to bath, but denied the return of his clothing before being trussed up in his current predicament.
He said a silent prayer that Robert would learn of his capture soon.
Darkness was visible through the windows when the door finally opened to admit Lord Vadin. A servant followed him in, and set a tray down on the desk before going to build a fire. Lord Vadin sat behind the desk, and began eating. As soon as the fire was going, the servant left the room.
Several minutes passed. Lord Vadin scribed a letter at his desk, then pressed his seal into the wax before rising and walking over to Ethan. He caught Ethan’s hair, and pulled his head up and back, making Ethan look up at him. He smirked, then wiped Ethan’s face. “You’re disgusting.” He walked over to bed, and removed his boots, then his armored doublet. He took of his belt, and folded it in half, carrying it back over to where Ethan was kneeling. The belt was set on a nearby table, and Lord Vadin began unlacing his breeches.
Lord Vadin grabbed his hair again, pulling his head up. Ethan felt the tip of Lord Vadin’s cock brush against his lips, and he closed his eyes. A moment later, Lord Vadin’s thumbs forced them open again. “No.” He drew back slightly before slapping Ethan across the face. The blow was more contemptuous than punishing, barely stinging. He stared down at Ethan for a moment, then moved forward again. His cockhead caressed Ethan’s cheek before entering his mouth.
Slowly, Lord Vadin pulled Ethan’s head closer, driving himself further into Ethan’s mouth. He began to gag, and Lord Vadin withdrew only slightly before pushing in still further. “Take it.” He tried to pull back, but Lord Vadin held his head in place. He gagged again, and felt himself starting to choke. Lord Vadin pulled back out most of the way, then begin to move Ethan’s head back and forth, moving the first half of his cock in and out of Ethan’s mouth. Then he slowly began to deepen the thrusts. “Relax your throat and take it, or I’ll use the iron on your feet.”
He leaned his head forward slightly, and was able to avoid gagging on the next thrust. He felt Lord Vadin’s balls brush against his chin as the man held him in place for several seconds, moaning softly before returning to the steady rhythm. His teeth hurt on the metal circle as he tried instinctively to close his mouth against the intrusion. Belatedly, he realized that was the gag’s purpose. With his mouth held open, there was no chance of him bringing his teeth to bear.
The cock twitched, and then he was choking as Lord Vadin came in the back of his throat. Lord Vadin withdrew, leaving him to cough and gag. He felt the man tousle his hair. “Next time, I will whip you if you spill.” He wiped himself clean before moving behind Ethan and releasing the straps that bound his ankles together. He did the same for the strap that held his elbows, then unbound his hands.
Ethan let out a small groan as he felt full circulation starting to return. Pins and needles crawled along his arms and shoulders. He prayed silently that no permanent damage had been done. The metal circle was yanked out from between his teeth. Lord Vadin unfastened the chain from the post, then looked down at him. “Crawl.”
It took him a moment to get his hands and knees under him. He could barely make his arms work as Lord Vadin used the collar as a leash, pulling him to the desk. The remains of the dinner plate were laid on the ground in front of him. He started to reach for the remains of the roll. “No.”
He closed his eyes, and put his hand back palm down on the cold stone floor before he lowered his head and began to eat. Like a dog. Lord Vadin sat down in the desk chair, and a moment later a bowl of water was set down next to the plate. He had some difficulty drinking before he figured out how to position his head. Ethan could tell Lord Vadin was watching, and knew the man had an amused look on his face.
Despite the humiliation involved, he ate everything on the plate. The small amount of food he’d been given that morning, after a day with nothing, had not been sufficient to assuage his hunger. Neither had the remains of the plate.
He watched the young man trying to decide if he was going to actually lick the plate clean. Lord Vadin felt a slight pang of disappointment when Ethan didn’t. He rose, tugging the leash. Ethan followed him, crawling on his hands and knees as he walked to the wash room.
As he had instructed earlier, the inlaid tub had been filled. The water was still hot enough to give off steam, and he could smell the scent of the oils. Lord Vadin undressed, laying his clothing on the rack. Then he bent, grabbed the collar around Ethan’s neck, and threw him into the water. Ethan came up sputtering and choking. He walked down into the tub. The water came up to his chest. He grabbed the chain again, and yanked Ethan to him. He caught his hair, then shoved his head under the water.
Vadin counted twenty seconds before the prince started thrashing in earnest. He counted off until he’d reached a full minute, then pulled him back up. He let Ethan take a couple breaths, then shoved him under the water again and counted off another minute. He repeated this twice more before pulling Ethan up and holding him in place until he’d stopped gasping. “You never answered my question.”
It took Ethan a moment to respond. “Which question, master?”
He shoved him under the water again, counting off another minute before letting him back up. Once again, he waited until Ethan had caught his breath. “Is your brother going to want you back?”
“Yes.” Ethan swallowed, and stared up at him. “He’s going to kill you.”
A slow smile came to his face, and he shoved the prince under the water again.
“He just let you go?” King Robert paced back and forth before turning to stare again at Jakob. His eyes flicked briefly to the severed digit on Jakob’s hand before returning to his face. “How did he realize Ethan was there?”
“I do not know, Your Majesty.”
“They met, a year previous.” Graham spoke up softly from where he was observing. “At the summit, back when King Alinor still believed peace might be possible.”
King Robert nodded. He took several deep breaths. “And Ethan is the one that killed the bastard’s bastard.” The assassin had made it all the way to the heart of the royal palace. The man had come upon him unarmed, reading to his youngest daughters. He’d been forced to flee, carrying the girls, and Ethan had stepped between them and the attacker. For a moment, he thought his little brother was going to die buying him time to escape. And then the assassin’s foot had caught on a loose section of carpet. “I told you to keep him away from the front lines.”
“We thought we were, Your Highness.” Shame was written across Jakob’s face. “The lines shifted before we could reposition.”
“You cannot blame Sir Jakob, Robert.” Graham straightened. “You know the prince insisted upon seeing the refugees to safety.”
“And how many of those refugees are Vadin’s spies? We should interrogate them.” Robert shot back at him. When Graham simply lifted an eyebrow, Robert sighed. “You’re right. That is anger speaking. Send a messenger out to Vadin with a ransom. I want my brother back here before the first snowfall.” He turned toward Jakob. “Get yourself to the healer.”
Graham turned to watch Jakob go, then turned back toward Robert. “Vadin is a pragmatic man, Robert. Killing Ethan would serve no purpose. It is more likely he will use the boy to force a concession from you. If you withdrew your support for King Alinor, Vadin would easily gain control of the mines.”
“Have Matthew begin laying the groundwork. If Vadin gets those mines, I want to be able to either seal or regain them within a week.” Robert nodded sharply. “And once my brother is safe, Alinor will have my full support.”
Samet watched the energies of the spell collapse, leaving a thin tracery of magic behind. He would either have to find an additional power source or a better way of stabilizing the harmonics to keep it in place longer than a few seconds. Still, it had accomplished its task. He stepped over the fading line, and looked down at the groaning assassin. The man clutched the burned and blackened hand to his chest. Samet rolled his eyes. “Really, if you were that afraid of death or dismemberment you should have found a different line of work.”
“You…” Samet looked over his shoulder to see the scribe staring at him with wide eyes. She clutched the tome to her chest as though it were a protective talisman. “You’re a…” She gave him one last terrified look before fleeing.
He sighed, and looked down at assassin. “And you’ve spoiled my plans for the evening.” He folded his arms. “I don’t suppose you’ll make it up to me by cooperating and telling me who sent you?” He frowned. “And how they knew I was here?”
“Burn in hell, demon.” The assassin glared up at him.
“A smart man would consider his options.” One corner of Samet’s mouth came up in a smile. “If you know who I am, then you must consider what will happen if you persist in irritating me.” Samet held up his hand, gazing at the flames before flicking his now glowing eyes back to the assassin. The man’s eyes widened. “Who sent you, and how did they know I was here?”
Ethan stared down at the stone floor. The cell was cold, but mercifully free of drafts. The center of the cell held what at first he’d taken to be a sawhorse. Lord Vadin had instructed the guards to secure Ethan to it. His ankles and knees had been secured to the back V, spreading his legs apart. He’d then been bent over the flat metal bar connecting the two Vs, and his wrists secured to the front V. The chain on the collar had been fastened to something behind him, above his head, but the chain hung slack. A belt around his waist secured him to the crossbar.
“Are you comfortable?”
“No, master.” Ethan continued staring at the floor. He saw the healer’s boots approach, and felt her hands on his shoulders. A blissfully numbing sensation spread through his body as she healed the damage Lord Vadin had inflicted the prior evening. She moved away again, and exited the room.
Lord Vadin’s hand caught his chin, and forced his head back until their eyes met. The man’s hand caressed his cheek almost tenderly. “It occurs to me that I have been a poor host, leaving you by yourself all day.” He forced the metal circle between Ethan’s teeth. He couldn’t quite stop himself from whimpering. “I do apologize. I have spoken with several members of my household, and they have agreed to come…” Lord Vadin secured the metal gag in place. “Visit you over the course of the day.” He actually kissed Ethan’s forehead before releasing him.
The door opened. “Here come a couple of them now. I must see to my generals. Do try to have fun.” He patted Ethan’s head before leaving.
A pair of boots stopped just inside his field of vision. A moment later, he felt someone behind him, running a hand up his leg lightly. His hair was grabbed just as he felt a slick hand began probing him from behind. His head was lifted, and a cock was thrust unceremoniously into his mouth. He gagged, and heard someone laugh. “I’m not sure he’s hungry this morning.”
The probing hand vanished, and then a strap came down on the back of his thighs. He screamed around the phallus filling his mouth, and heard the man in front of him groan. “Holy shit. Do that again.” The man in front shoved himself deeper into Ethan’s throat just as blows landed. His cries were muffled, but each one resulted in a pleased sound from the man whose cock was muffling them.
Another blow from the strap, and then he heard a woman’s voice. “Listen to him. Squealing like a stuck pig.”
Lord Vadin paused at the door, looking through the grate rather than opening it and interrupting. Two of the guards were inside with Ethan. The tall lieutenant stood at Ethan’s head, making good use of the gagged open mouth, while a shorter man was positioned behind the captive, thrusting rapidly. He could see marks on Ethan’s body, both red welts and handprints.
He waited until the men had finished and cleaned themselves off. As he’d instructed, neither made a move to clean Ethan before leaving. There was a small puddle beneath Ethan’s head, and trails running down his legs. The lieutenant bowed when he noticed Lord Vadin, and the second man went a little wide-eyed before doing the same. He nodded to both and waited for them to go on their way before entering the room.
Ethan’s head hung down, and he was making a small whimpering sound. Lord Vadin shook his head and tsked as he walked towards him. “Look at this.” He shook his head. “I let you have some friends over, and you make a mess.” He grabbed a hank of Ethan’s hair and used it to lift his head. The amber eyes were slightly glazed. “Disgusting.” He snapped his fingers and two of the servants came in and began unfastening the bonds.
His prisoner didn’t move once freed. Lord Vadin grabbed the chain attached to the collar, and then gave a hard yank. Ethan ended up on the ground, choking and gasping. “On your hands and knees.”
It was several seconds before his order was obeyed. He tugged at the leash, and Ethan crawled after him. Lord Vadin led him to the bath chamber before dropping the leash. “Filthy. What would your brother think, if he saw you like this?” He smiled slightly when he saw Ethan flinch. “Clean yourself up. When the candle burns down, report to my chamber.” He marked the wax with a fingernail.
He tried to vomit again, but was only left with dry heaves. He tried to stand and failed. Ethan heard himself sob before he crawled to where the bath was waiting, and all but fell into it. He let himself sink beneath the surface. If Robert didn’t send rescue soon…
Ethan surfaced sooner than he’d intended, terrified for a moment that he’d sensed Lord Vadin joining him in the tub. He felt his heart hammering when he realized he was still mercifully alone in the chamber, and glanced at the candle. The water smelled slightly of a vague woody fragrance, the same as it had the evening Lord Vadin had drowned him over and over. And the evenings Lord Vadin had… He swallowed, and grabbed a cloth from recess in the stone. There was a jar of soap, and he sniffed at it. The same woody fragrance.
Reluctantly, he used some of the soap, then applied the cloth. A few minutes later, he realized he was apparently trying to remove his skin, and threw the cloth back into the recess.
He’d tried not to count the number of times the door had opened. A few had returned more than once to… He fought the urge to vomit again. The woman had returned three times, and he could still hear her mocking laughter. She’d used the strap, making him twitch and scream for the pleasure of… He shook his head, and then caught himself looking at the candle again. His respite was half over. He picked up the cloth again, and scrubbed.
The candle was almost done. Reluctantly, he climbed out of the tub, and blinked. A white robe sat on the stand. He grabbed it and pulled it over his shoulders. After two weeks of being denied clothing, the thin cloth felt like armor. He found a comb, and pulled it through his hair before going to the door.
Slowly, he breathed in and out, trying to work up the nerve to turn the handle. Lord Vadin had given him the count that morning, as he always did. Sixty eight prisoners. Sixty eight men condemned to burn alive if he ran, fought, or disobeyed. He could still feel the sensation of the brand being pressed against his skin. He could not condemn those men to that fate.
One more deep breath, and then he closed his eyes and opened the door.