The door opened. Lord Vadin smiled when the young man entered. “There you are. I was starting to grow concerned you intended to disrupt our evening by forcing me to punish you.”
Ethan shook his head as he came all the way into the chamber. His eyes flicked towards the table, and confusion showed on his face.
He gestured expansively at one of the chairs. “Sit.” Lord Vadin followed his own instruction, and waited until the young man had sat down across from him. “Bread?” He offered the basket to Ethan.
The young man swallowed before removing a slice of the bread and setting it on the plate. Lord Vadin narrowed his eyes, and the young man cringed slightly. “Thank you, master.”
“Your brother has learned of your captivity.” Lord Vadin offered him a slice of meat from the tray. Considering he’d mostly been subsiding on nothing more than the leftovers of Vadin’s own breakfast and supper, it was amusing how hesitant Ethan was about taking the offerings. “His envoy arrived at my forward camp with a ransom offer. He was rather confused when he was informed I was keeping you.”
“Did…” Ethan’s voice was little more than a whisper. “My men…”
“I did not ask. I can, if you’d like?” He kept his voice pleasant and friendly.
“No, master.” Ethan looked down at the plate, and then began to actually eat.
Lord Vadin took a sip of his wine before turning his attention to his own food. The meal was excellent, and it was entertaining to see his prisoner awkwardly respond to the casual conversation. Rather than relaxing, the boy was starting to grow more and more nervous. He let the servant come and take the remains of the meal away. “More wine?” He refilled the glass without waiting for a response.
“Th-Thank you, master.” The goblet shook slightly in Ethan’s hand as he took a sip and replaced it on the table. His breathing was slightly ragged.
“Finish your wine. I will be annoyed if it goes to waste.” He drank from his own glass.
“Yes, master.” Ethan took another drink.
“It is a Dsigo vintage, out of the vineyards at Mbali.” He turned the glass in his hand, looking at the liquid within. “I fear it will be some time before those vineyards are productive again. The local lord refused my offer to surrender his holdings, and forced me to lay siege. I grew angry.” He looked at Ethan. “It is best not to make me angry.”
The glass was picked up again, and Ethan took another drink. The goblet chattered slightly against his teeth, and he set it back down. “Yes, master.”
“Will your brother make a second offer?”
“Are you certain?” Lord Vadin raised an eyebrow. “His wife is pregnant, after all. If she produces a male, you become somewhat unnecessary. He may even prefer it if you were out of the way.” Instead of responding, Ethan picked up the glass again and drained the remainder. As soon as he set the glass back down, Lord Vadin stood. Ethan flinched. “Get up.”
Ethan obeyed. Lord Vadin ran the back of his hand down Ethan’s cheek, keeping the movement gentle. “Lay down on the bed, on your back, with your hands above your head.”
Wordlessly, Ethan went to do as he was told. Lord Vadin picked up one of the coils of rope sitting on the nearby stand. He bound Ethan’s wrists separately to slats on the headboard a couple feet apart, leaving a bit of slack. Then he picked up the second coil of rope, and moved to the foot of the bed and caught one of Ethan’s ankles. He bound it too, leaving several inches of slack in the rope before securing the other end to the bed post. He caught Ethan’s other ankle, and spread the young man’s legs before securing it to the slat in the center of the footboard. Again, he left a few inches of slack, and the young man almost immediately used the slack to bring his legs closer together again.
He left the young man laying there as he went and added another log to the fire. The room was pleasantly warm, despite the chill in the air outside. He set his armored doublet on the rack and removed his tunic before picking up a small vial and returning to the bed. He set the vial on the bedstand, and lay down next to Ethan, running a hand down the silk of the robe. “You smell nice.”
Ethan shut his eyes. His breathing was shallow. Vadin caressed the length of the younger man’s body, trailing his fingers back up along the inner thigh. The young man had tied the robe’s sash in a knot. He smiled as he began to unfasten it. When the knot came undone, he caressed the young man’s body again, teasing his fingers under the edge of the robe to slowly open it. He bent his head forward, kissing Ethan’s neck, scraping his teeth very lightly against the younger man’s throat. He let his fingers trail lightly across the taut belly, tracing the muscles beneath. Then he lowered his hand, fingertips trailing as he moved towards the young man’s groin. Gently, he ran a hand over the young man’s shaft before reaching underneath, caressing lightly.
A small gasping sound escaped the helpless man. Vadin kissed his throat again before lowering his head to run a tongue around one nipple. He felt Ethan moan slightly as the young man’s body began to respond to his ministrations. “Stop.” The word was whispered.
He ran his tongue around the nipple again and left his other hand where it lay. “Are you sure?” He kissed Ethan’s jaw. “You want me to stop, knowing the consequences?”
Ethan made a noise that sounded like a sob. “No, master.”
He kissed the young man’s lips, dancing his tongue across them. Ethan obediently parted his lips, and he slipped his tongue inside. He could taste the wine. “Ask me to continue.”
“Co…” Ethan caught himself. “Please continue, master.”
“Do you want me to touch you, Ethan?”
The young man whimpered, his eyes shut tightly. He swallowed. “Please touch me, master.”
Lord Vadin kissed the tear that had escaped Ethan’s eye, and went back to pleasuring the young man’s body. He could see Ethan trying to fight the sensation, squirming despite himself. He bit the nipple, just lightly, not enough to cause pain, and heard a small moan. His hand grasped the Ethan’s erection, sliding up and down. Ethan bit his lip, and grabbed at the ropes binding his hands.
He waited until he was sure the young man was close, then rose, and removed his breeches, grabbing the vial before returning to the bed. The slack ropes enabled him to lift Ethan’s hips, and he saw the young man briefly open his eyes before shutting them again.
The contents of the vial were slick. Despite the abuse he’d suffered earlier that day, Ethan was still tight when he pressed his cockhead against the puckered entrance. “Ask me to enter you, Ethan.”
Ragged breaths came from the young man. He winced before obeying. “Please enter me, master.”
“Be more clear.”
Ethan swallowed. “Please fuck me, master.”
“Good boy.” He pushed himself inside, enjoying the sensation. Once he was all the way in, he began caressing Ethan’s body again. He kept his rhythm gentle as he played his hand over Ethan’s shaft. Making his captive bend over the bed was easier, but this had its own satisfaction. “Open your eyes, Ethan.” The amber eyes opened. “Look at me.” He cupped his right hand around Ethan’s balls, his touch gentle. His left hand continued rubbing up and down the shaft, in time with his own thrusts. The eyes flicked down to what Vadin was doing before returning to Vadin’s face.
With his right hand he caressed Ethan’s chest, lightly rubbing the nipples before reaching up to touch Ethan’s cheek. He felt Ethan tighten slightly as the young man’s hips rose in response. When he came, a heartbeat later, the sound he made was more sob than anything else.
Vadin let himself come a few moments later. He stayed inside Ethan until he stopped twitching, then gently withdrew. After retrieving a damp towel, he cleaned himself and then his victim. A slow smile came to his face when he realized Ethan was crying.
“What did Vadin mean, he’s keeping him?” King Robert stared down at the messenger.
“He said he has no interest in ransoming the prisoner, Your Highness.” The messenger was pale.
Graham couldn’t blame the man. From the look on Robert’s face, he was a hair’s breath from pummeling the messenger. The situation was fraying everyone’s nerves. “Vadin no doubt knows his prisoner’s value.” When Robert turned toward him, Graham nodded. “And he has a large army to feed.”
“And your advice?” Robert folded his arms.
The prelate robes felt heavy on his shoulders. “Increase the ransom. Vadin has lords of his own, and they must be growing restless at their dwindling coffers.” He sent a glance at the messenger.
Robert followed his gaze. “Dismissed.” The man fled the room. “And the advice you wish to offer without ears to hear?”
“I…” Graham took a deep breath. “I speak now as your Prelate and sworn advisor to your throne, Your Majesty. Vadin preys on your sentimentality. He holds Ethan because he knows of your love for the boy, that he is more your son than your brother. As long as he has Ethan, he knows you will be reluctant to commit more of your forces to aid the alliance. Without your forces behind them, Alinor’s armies will fall.”
“You want me to leave him there?” Robert stared at him.
His fists clenched, and then his shoulders slumped. “Of course I don’t want you to leave him there, Robert. The thought of…” He shook his head, then straightened once more. “Forgive me, my friend.”
“I wish you weren’t right.” Robert’s voice was quiet. “I will increase the ransom offer. And…” He lifted his head. “Put out word. The man that brings my brother home safely will be given a barony.”
He casually ruffled the urchin’s hair before passing him the coin. “Now…” Samet pulled out the sketchbook, and indicated a different drawing. He held it up so the children could see. “I’ve a silver for every one of these you bring me, but you must bring me the entire plant, roots and all.”
“A whole silver?” A filthy girl who couldn’t be more than ten gasped.
It took less than a heartbeat for the children to scatter. Samet shook his head, then turned to see one child hadn’t followed the others. A glance at the boy’s leg revealed why. The foot was twisted, likely broken recently. He moved closer, and saw the boy’s eyes widen. “May I?” He indicated the leg.
The boy swallowed, but didn’t pull away when Samet lifted the pant leg. The scent of gangrene wafted up from the injury. Broken, with the bone sticking partly out, and unhealed. Amputation might save the boy’s life, but without it, he’d be dead in a couple days. “What is your name?”
“Dorian.” The boy’s voice was hollow.
“Where are your parents, Dorian?”
“I don’t know.” The boy shuddered when Samet touched his forehead. It was hot with fever. “Please, my lord. I just need a copper for supper.”
Samet closed his eyes, then nodded. He touched the boy’s forehead again, and the child collapsed into his arms. He moved quickly, carrying the boy off the street before any saw him.
He placed the iron back in the brazier and waited until his captive had stopped screaming. “I don’t appreciate it when you make me punish you, Ethan.” Lord Vadin examined the young man’s foot. The marks made by the searing hot metal were an angry blistered red.
Sobbing sounds came from the bound man. “I’m sorry, master.”
“I warned you about teeth.” He picked up the handle of the iron and went to the other foot. Lord Vadin held the end of the iron close enough to the foot for Ethan to feel the heat coming off it. The injury to the guard had been minor, the result of Ethan choking rather than any real attempt at a bite. Still, he had to keep his promise.
“Please, master. Please don’t. It won’t happen again. Please. I’m sorry.” The foot twitched, but was held in place by the stocks. “Please.”
There was a hissing sound when the hot metal made contact, and a scream tore from Ethan. He held the iron in place for only a couple seconds, and set the tip back in the brazier as he waited for Ethan to stop twitching. The healer stood not far away, watching with a small, pleased smile. “Ethan, why am I punishing you?”
“I–” Ethan tried to get his breath back. “I deserve it, master.”
“Yes, Ethan. You broke the rules.” He touched Ethan’s foot with the iron again. When the boy stopped screaming, he smiled. “You will thank me, when this is over.”
“He refused the ransom again.” Robert leaned on the back of a chair.
Tabitha put her hand on his shoulder, and he turned to wrap his arms around her. His queen held him for a moment, and he drew strength from her. “The girls have gone to offer prayers for his safety.”
Robert smiled. “I hope the gods are listening.” He took a deep breath, then looked toward where Graham stood. “The messenger says Vadin refused to even speak to him.”
“I will go.” Graham nodded.
“Graham…” Tabitha turned toward him. “Vadin is…”
“I am a Prelate of the Covenant, my queen. And as King Robert’s Right Hand, Vadin will not turn me away. He has a goal in mind, a motive. I will endeavor to find it, and…” He met Robert’s eyes. “I will keep my eyes open.”
“Thank you, Graham.”
Samet checked the seal on the clay jar of herbs before tucking it carefully into his saddlebags. He’d managed to find most of what he’d come to find, and it was apparent the rest was not here. There were rumors of soldiers on the road, and soon the war would come here. He saw a couple of the urchins watching, and dropped his coinpurse before grabbing the reins of the horse. The coins scattered in the dust. The children would be able to find a use for the silver, but he dared not carry Candlemere mint to his next destination.
He glanced over his shoulder once as he walked away into the evening dark. Dorian stood at the gate, watching him leave. He waved, and saw the boy smile before running off to join his friends.
The cage wasn’t quite big enough for him to sit up straight. Nor was it big enough for him to lay down, even if it had been comfortable enough for that. His knees were drawn up to his chest, and he was slouched down so as not to have to bend his neck. He moved slightly, and the cage swayed in response. The motion made his empty stomach twist, and he fought the rising nausea. As bad as this was, it was better than another day in the stocks, at the mercy of the guards.
Ethan closed his eyes. He was no longer certain how long he had been Vadin’s prisoner. Often he had no way to judge the passage of time. At least a month. Surely Robert… He opened his eyes again. Closing them only made the nausea worse. Vadin’s taunts were just that. Robert would come for him.
Lord Vadin entered the chamber. He went immediately to the fire, and set the iron into it to heat. Ethan bit back a whimper. Despite the healing, he could still feel the sensation of the heated metal being laid against his feet.
A few other tasks were performed. The warlord removed his boots and armored doublet before going to the desk and transferring some items from a belt pouch to the drawer. It was several minutes before Lord Vadin walked to the cage and unfastened the lock. He opened the door, and gestured for Ethan to exit. Ethan obeyed, remaining on his knees. Rising without permission had gotten him thirty lashes. Lord Vadin caught his chin, and turned his head towards the fire. “You see the iron, Ethan?”
He swallowed. “Yes, master.”
His chin was released. Lord Vadin caught the short chain on the collar, and led Ethan towards the center of the room. Ethan followed on his hands and knees. The warlord sat down on the sofa, sprawling comfortably. “You have one hour. If I am not pleased, I will use the iron. If I am, I will use the strap.” His smile was cruel as he settled back on the sofa. “Please me, Ethan.”
Ethan crawled forward, and began unfastening the front of Lord Ethan’s trousers. Lord Vadin caught his chin. “Ask permission, first.”
“May I…” Ethan swallowed. “May I taste your cock, master?”
The warlord ran his fingers through Ethan’s hair. “Yes.”
The glyph burned brightly where he had drawn it on the stone. Samet ignited the pile of herbs with a gesture, and their sickly aroma filled the air around him. He stood in the center of the markings, careful to not let so much as a stray thread of his garment cross the gleaming lines.
In front of him a woman took shape. A crone, so impossibly old that she was scarcely resembled a human. Her twisted and withered fingers ended in talons. She smiled at him, revealing that her teeth were jagged shards. Blood trickled from one side of her mouth. “Again you call.”
“It was not present.”
Her face contorted with fury. “Taken.” She hissed, and the sound seemed to echo through the darkness around them as though a thousand serpentine witnesses voiced their displeasure.
“Is there another?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“Three there were, and three only.” She moved within the confines of the sigil, her movements twisted and jerky. She shuddered. “One taken. One beyond your reach. And the other…” Her eyes turned northward.
Samet sighed. “Naturally.”