Robert watched as Ethan as his brother showed Lucille the knives before somehow making all of them disappear on his person. The last few years had wrought more than a few changes in his little brother. He wasn’t sure he liked all of them. “What’s that one do?” She pointed at a gold one.
“That one?” She pointed to a silver one.
“And that one?” She pointed to another.
“How do they fit into there?” She examined the arm sheath, which appeared to be only about a third the size of the dagger Ethan had just placed inside.
“I’m a bit curious as to that myself.” Robert chuckled.
“One of Samet’s friends is a pixie. She enchanted these.” Ethan put the last of the knives away, and straightened. Aside from those in the red sheaths, none were visible. He turned and looked up at Robert. “Something wrong?”
Reluctantly, he nodded. “The other leaders of the Coalition have heard Samet is here.” He sighed. “The situation is going to get complicated. King Arda just sent a missive demanding that if the rumor is true, I turn Samet over for trial and execution.” He glanced at where Samet was standing. “So, for now, you are officially still my prisoner. That prevents any…” He shook his head. “Unpleasantness that would arise from the Covenant attempting to take you into custody.” He folded his arms. “What happens when word reaches your father?”
“Well, in that we do have an advantage.” Samet shrugged. “My father will never believe I am working against him, nor will he think that you are in any way capable of coercing my cooperation. Either he will think that I am simply your prisoner and the rumors I am aiding you are simply rumors, or he will assume I am here with ulterior motives, to play you for my own ends.”
“Several Coalition members would agree with him on the latter, unfortunately.” Robert sighed. “And I will admit that I am still not fully confident on that front myself. Sir Vincent will remain in charge of your guard, and he will ensure you have at least one Covenant mage keeping you under observation.”
“I am certain he’s just thrilled about that.” Samet glanced over his shoulder at where Sir Vincent was glaring at him again before turning to look at Ethan. “You know, I don’t think he likes me.”
“You did throw him through a column.” Ethan shrugged. “And then into a wall. Some people get upset by that kind of thing.”
“That’s fair.” Samet nodded. He frowned. “Would apologizing help?”
“Are you actually sorry?”
“Well…” Samet shook his head. “No.” When Ethan folded his arms, Samet shrugged. “He stabbed me.”
Ethan lengthened his stride and caught up with Vincent. The man’s movements were slightly furtive, as if he was trying to get down the corridor unnoticed. “I never got a chance to thank you.”
Vincent turned and gave him a startled look. “Thank me?”
“Samet says you tried to rescue me twice.” Ethan nodded to Vincent. “So, thank you.”
“I…” Vincent stared at him.
“It’s…” Ethan trailed off as he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. Sarah was at the other end of the corridor, lingering in the doorway into the library. He turned back to look at Vincent. “Is Sarah waiting for you?”
“Um…” Vincent started to turn a little bit red.
“She is.” Ethan stared at him. “You’re are trying to be sneaky.”
“Blood of the gods.” Vincent swallowed.
“You’re sneaking with Sarah.” He heard the voices of Robert and Graham coming in their direction. “What are you standing around here for? They’re going to notice you. Go.” He shoved Vincent in Sarah’s direction and went to go intercept his brother.
“That…” Samet sighed. “Didn’t work out quite as I planned.” He glared. “Stop laughing, you look like buffoons.”
“And yet, we still have our eyebrows.” Ethan smirked from where he and Margaret had hidden behind a parasol.
“Bloody hell.” Samet walked towards the looking glass. “Again?”
“This…” They all turned at Graham’s voice. “Sort of thing happens a lot?”
“Don’t worry.” Ethan smiled at Graham. “The first thing he does when he moves into a new work space is fireproof it.”
“I see.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “What exactly were you trying to accomplish?” He gave Samet a suspicious look.
“I was trying to teach Margaret how to make an ablative coating.” Samet gestured haphazardly. “Applied to the skin or armor, it will protect from most temperature extremes.”
“Up to a lightning strike.” Ethan nodded.
“I thought perhaps it could have applications for the boiler on the steam engine.” Margaret nodded.
“But it wears off after a few days, and it’s volatile to make.” He glanced at Samet. “Especially when the alchemist insists upon making ‘improvements’.”
“I did not hear any complaining when you were able to walk across the lava flow.” Samet started wiping up the mess. “I thought, given the potential threats, your guards might find it beneficial to have on hand.” He frowned. “I am going to need more blood lotus.”
“It’s red lotus.”
“You had me write out eight copies. It’s red lotus.” Ethan narrowed his eyes. “Did you add blood lotus?”
Ethan sighed, and rolled his eyes at Margaret. “I don’t know why he has me take notes. He never reads them.” He turned and raised an eyebrow at Graham. “Did you need something?”
“I am…” Graham nodded to Ethan. “And I admit this fully, checking up on you and monitoring the situation.”
“Hear that, Samet?” Margaret grinned. “You’re ‘the situation’.”
“A mild improvement on ‘the problem’, though less entertaining than ‘the incident’.” Samet tossed the towel into a basket.
Graham narrowed his eyes. “Your laundry is smoldering.”
“It does that. We don’t need to worry unless it starts melting.” Ethan grinned.
“I do not melt my laundry.”
“Really, what about…”
“Dissolving is not the same thing as melting.” Samet shook his head.
Ethan laughed. “And eyebrows are ‘supposed to’ grow back purple.”
Samet caught Graham’s eye, and winked. Graham turned to look at the laughing Ethan, and nodded. “I will alert the maids to…” He waved a hand at the laundry. “That.” He nodded again before leaving the room.
Robert saw Graham walking down the corridor, a smile on his face. “What amuses you?”
Graham glanced back over his shoulder at the room he’d exited. “Under other circumstances…” He gestured towards the door. “Listening to that bunch bicker would be highly amusing.”
“Bicker?” Robert narrowed his eyes. “That bastard isn’t…”
“Peace, Robert.” Graham shook his head and laughed. “Samet had a potion go somewhat awry. Ethan and Margaret are amusing themselves greatly at his expense. And I suspect that Samet may have done it on purpose, to achieve that very result.” He met Robert’s eyes. “Ethan is laughing, Robert. He’s poking fun at Samet, making jokes, and laughing.”
“I…” Robert closed his eyes, blinking back the tears that tried to form.
Ethan blinked in surprise to find a man standing in his room, and then he smiled. “Sir Jakob.”
“Prince Ethan, I…” The man fell to his knees, his head bowed. His hair was far grayer than Ethan remembered.
“You’re alive.” He walked toward him. “Robert said you were, but seeing is different. Samet told me Vadin had executed some of the folks that tried to rescue me, and I was afraid one of them was you.”
“I, uh…” Jakob turned away. “I tried, my prince. Made it into the city, but…” He took a deep breath. “They caught me on my way into the palace.” He continued looking at the ground. “Vadin told us you’d surrendered so he wouldn’t execute us.”
“I was captured anyway.” Ethan sighed. “Getting you out was all I could do and…” He wrapped his arms around himself. “He said if I didn’t, he’d have you boiled alive.”
“I’d have preferred that.” Jakob swallowed.
He sat on the floor, a couple feet in front of the man to whom he’d been entrusted as a small child. “Sir Jakob, you’ve saved my life no fewer than four times. You…” He swallowed. “I couldn’t let that happen to you.”
Sir Jakob flinched. “When he caught me, he uh…” His fists clenched. “He said he was going to cut off my hands, but he changed his mind and decided to take it out on you instead and…” Jakob knelt in front of him, his head bowed. “My prince, I failed you in the worst possible way. What I let happen to you was…”
“What did he make you see?” Ethan tilted his head at Jakob.
“I can’t…” Jakob’s voice was barely more than a sob. “I never told your brother what…”
Slowly, Ethan reached out and put a hand on Jakob’s shoulder. “Will you come back, lead my guard again?”
“I…” Sir Jakob shook his head. “I’m not sure I can, my prince. I failed you twice already. Even if I…” He shook his head again. “Your brother would never allow it.”
“He doesn’t have a choice.” Ethan shrugged. “It’s you, or I’m back to climbing out privy windows.” He rose, then offered Sir Jakob a hand back to his feet.
“What are you doing in here?”
Samet looked up from the book in his hands to see Sarah glaring at him. “Lurking ominously.” He looked down and turned another page, scanning the text. He didn’t miss the look she sent toward his ‘bodyguard’. She stalked off to a different section of the library, sending glares back at them. He smiled, then shook his head before glancing at Sir Vincent. “You know I’m going to be here a while, at this table.” He gestured at the stack of books he’d made before sitting down. “At least two, maybe three hours.”
“Your point?” Vincent glared at him.
“This table is in clear view of that balcony right there. Someone standing there would manage to have some privacy and yet still be able to keep an eye on me.” When the knight gave him a confused look, Samet sighed. “Bloody hell man, go after the girl.”
“Wait, what?” Vincent blinked. “I’m not…” He shook his head.
“Right. Because in addition to being irredeemably evil, I’m also blind.” Samet rolled his eyes and picked up the first book in the stack. “She could do far worse.”
“The firstborn princess of Talidir and the bastard son of a Prelate.” Sir Vincent sent a look in Sarah’s direction, and shook his head. “And pigs fly.”
“With the proper enchantments, they do.” Samet shrugged. “I can demonstrate if you’d like?” He shook his head, and set the book down. “There are few people in this world willing to attempt to take me on. Fewer still who would undertake to do so a second time.” He looked up at Vincent. “You are the only one who has ever tried a third time. You are either a complete fool, or the bravest man I have ever met.” He selected a different book and settled back in his chair to begin looking through it. “I am currently leaning toward the former.”
Sir Vincent stared at him for a moment, and then started walking toward the princess. Samet smiled.
“The Coalition is demanding a summit to discuss the matter.”
Robert stared across his desk at Prelate Benoit. “’The matter’ has a name.” He folded his arms. “There is nothing to discuss. Samet is my prisoner and will be remaining in my custody.”
“You are permitting a sorcerer to wander freely through your castle, unbound.”
“He is guarded at all times.” Graham shook his head.
Prelate Benoit glared. “We are forced to acknowledge the possibility that you have been magically compromised. The summit will be held, with or without you in attendance, and the matter will be dealt with.”
“Samet’s information has already allowed us to retake territory for King Alinor.” Robert narrowed his eyes. “The young man is under my protection, Prelate.” He stood, and had the satisfaction of seeing Benoit flinch. “We will attend your summit, but the young man will be remaining in my custody.”
“We shall see.” Prelate Benoit turned on his heel and stalked from the room.
He looked toward Graham. “How do you think this ‘summit’ is going to go?”
“I cannot say for certain. The Covenant is very clear regarding sorcerers, and yet…” Graham frowned. “This war has been costly, and the Coalition must face practicality. If they execute Vadin’s son, the Warlord will give no quarter. He will raze the countryside, slaughtering everything in his path. He will bury their cities and salt the earth. And on the other side of that equation, Samet has the ability to help us not only end this war, but to do so victoriously. It is simply a question of whether pragmatism will overcome bias.”
“Alinor will come down on our side. I think we can drum up additional support. It’s the archmage concerning me.”
“As well he should. He will, at the very least, insist Samet be bound, and the young man has already made it clear doing so will cost us his willing cooperation.” Graham hesitated, then sighed. “My concern is…” He shook his head. “That the archmage may feel he has a way to bind Samet in a manner that would compel the young man to do his bidding, and that the Coalition would find such a prospect enticing.”
“Shit.” Robert sighed. He shook his head. “Shit.”
“And I believe I can say with certainty that Samet would actively resist such an option. I do not know what the end result of such an action would be.”
“An enslaved sorcerer or an obliterated summit seem like pretty much the only two options.” Robert shook his head. “I’m not inclined to take that path.”
“Nor am I.”
“This does not sound as though this summit is going to be in my best interest.” Samet clasped his hands behind his back.
“I will ensure you are allowed to make your case.” Robert folded his arms. “King Arda has suggested that the entirety of your purpose here is to use your presence to destabilize the Coalition. And I’m guessing that’s what your father thinks you’re doing.” Robert shook his head.
“Likely. It is not as though it is a bad plan.” Samet nodded.
“It behooves us to be diplomatic. But as long as you are dealing with us on the level, we will keep you safe.” Robert took a deep breath. “There is a matter we have not discussed, one Arda pointed out to me that he felt should be taken into consideration.”
“And what would that be, your highness?”
“Ethan killed your brother.” Robert gave him a level look.
Samet sighed. “My…” He shook his head. “I loved my brother, as a younger does an elder. I grieved his death and had I come upon Ethan shortly after the event occurred, it is likely my response would have been violent. Yet I will point out that Ethan was acting in the defense of his own loved ones and…” He clenched his fists. “Grief does not excuse what my father did, and…” He met Robert’s eyes. “I am very much aware that my brother was following in my father’s footsteps. Wishing things had gone otherwise won’t…” He forced his hands to relax. “Regretfully I do not have the power to change the past, and must instead do what I can in the now.”
“Duke Milien was one of Arda’s vassals.”
“Then Arda can tell you what exactly happens when I give vent to rage and grief.” Samet’s voice was calm.
“Duke Milien was Arda’s —”
“Duke Milien sent the assassins that killed my mother.” Samet gazed back at Robert. “Arda can also tell you what befell those men.”
“He did. Hence the reason for his current concern.” Robert nodded. “You’re a dangerous man, Samet. And if I’m wrong, if you aren’t playing square with us, then there…” He let his arms fall to his sides.
“I believe the idiom you are looking for is ‘will be hell to pay’.” Samet nodded.
“Yeah.” Robert sighed. “That’s the one.”
Ethan looked out the window, then shook his head and drew the drapes. “I miss the Beyond.”
“Nostalgic for the whole fighting for your life thing?”
“Privacy.” Ethan sighed. He shrugged, then sat down across from Samet. “Margaret has started making doe eyes at you when you’re not looking. The queen may have noticed.”
“Please say something nice at my funeral.” Samet shook his head and laughed softly.
“I’m honestly curious as to what would make Robert’s head explode first…” Ethan tilted his head. “You sleeping with his brother or his daughter?”
“Does Talidir use a headsman or a hangman?” Samet raised an eyebrow. He set aside the scroll he was reading, and held a hand out to Ethan. When Ethan took it, Samet pulled him down to sit next to him. “I cannot help but notice the guards now stay outside the door.”
“Still a ward up though. It’ll alert them if you use any magic.” Ethan gave a regretful sigh.
“Hmmm…” Samet frowned. “Fair point.”
Ethan smiled at him. He his hand down Samet’s chest before unfastening his trousers. “You look stressed, master. Perhaps I could help you relax a little.”
“You do realize if the guards hear a commotion, they are going to…” Samet gasped as Ethan’s hand caressed him gently. “Possibly break the door down.”
“Hmmm…” He nuzzled Samet’s neck, gently brushing his lips across one of the areas he’d learned Samet was most ticklish, and felt him squirm in response. “Does that mean you want me to stop, master?” He moved his hand to Samet’s inner thigh, brushing the fingers lightly to make Samet squirm again. “You’re very jumpy tonight, master.”
Samet let out a string of curses as Ethan began caressing him again, then caught Ethan’s hand. “Ethan…” He narrowed his eyes. “Who is your master?”
“You are, master.” Ethan nodded to him.
“You are misbehaving, Ethan.”
“I am sorry, master.” Ethan smiled.
“Which means…” Samet turned toward him, and then shoved Ethan down on the couch. “You are going to have to be punished.”
Ethan blinked. “Master?”
“You heard me, Ethan.” Samet narrowed his eyes. Carefully and with painstaking slowness, he began taking Ethan’s clothing off. Each piece was folded neatly, and the sheathed daggers were lined up with precision. Samet removed his own tunic, but not his trousers.
He guided Ethan to the floor, lying behind him, and moved his hand to begin caressing Ethan while he nuzzled Ethan’s neck and shoulders. The motions were frustratingly light until Ethan was all but squirming with the need for more. “Master…” He breathed the world quietly.
Samet’s hand moved between his legs, stroking him tenderly. He wrapped his leg around Ethan, moving Ethan’s own legs apart to give him better access. He was getting close when Samet’s lips brushed his ear. “You may not cum until I do.”
“Master?” Ethan blinked. Samet wasn’t even undressed yet. The gentle motion of Samet’s hand continued. “Master?” The second word was almost a whimper.
“I like this soap on you.” Samet kissed the nap of his neck. “You smell of apples.” He moved his hand up Ethan’s side, giving him a merciful reprieve from the pleasurable sensation. An unfortunately brief one. Samet rolled on top of him and slid down. He smiled up at Ethan. “Do you taste of them too?” His mouth came down on Ethan, taking him in hungrily.
Fists clutched the rug as he bit back a cry. Samet’s tongue teased and fondled as he moved his lips up and down Ethan’s shaft, never going all the way down. He fought the sensation, twisting his head this way and that as he tried not to arch his back or raise his hips to get more, deeper, and then Samet was kissing his inner thigh before trailing kisses back up his stomach. Ethan put his arms on Samet’s shoulders and then slid down so he could trail his tongue around his nipples, making Samet gasp. He moved one hand to try removing Samet’s trousers, only for Samet to move his hand away. “Master?”
“You must be quiet, Ethan.” Samet moved to press a kiss to his lips.
“Perhaps if I had something in my mouth, master?” Ethan raised an eyebrow hopefully.
“Of course.” Samet reached up to the table, retrieved one of the small pears, and obligingly held it up to Ethan’s mouth. When Ethan stared at him, Samet smiled. “Be gentle with it. You don’t want to make a mess.” He opened his mouth and let Samet place the pear between his teeth. “That’s a good boy.” He kissed Ethan’s neck before reaching a hand down to start caressing him again. He shifted a little so he could reach before probing a finger into Ethan.
The juices of the pear filled his mouth as his teeth began sinking in. His back arched and he squirmed, nearly dislodging Samet from atop him. Samet laughed, and rolled to the side before sliding his trousers down. “Well, if you’re going to buck, you can ride instead.”
Ethan shifted to straddle Samet, moaning softly into the pear as he sank down atop the man, impaling himself on Samet’s erection. Samet’s hands continued caressing his body as he began to raise and lower himself. He wanted to go slowly, to tease as Samet had teased him, but the need was too great. He smiled as he felt Samet begin to arch his own back beneath him, allowing Ethan to drive him deeper inside.
He felt Samet twitch, and then bit through the pear as he gave in to his own orgasm. Ethan caught himself before collapsing atop Samet, and moved to the side instead. He picked the pear up off Samet’s chest. Then he chuckled, and took another bite, letting the juices run over his mouth before moving to kiss Samet. “Next time, can we get a peach?”
Samet frowned before looking back at Margaret. “I never thought of using iridium.”
“Really?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Normally my focus is increasing the effect, not the duration.” He shook his head. “I can enhance the duration by focusing some magic into the effect.” He shrugged.
“Can you make me some of the frostfire?” She leaned forward eagerly.
“When we get back from the summit.” He nodded.
“What about mixing the iridium directly into the alloy, would that decrease the tensile strength too much to…”
“Oh, blood of the gods.” Anabeth put her hands over her ears. “Can’t we put them in a different carriage or something?”
Ethan just stared. “Go back to the balloons. I understood the balloons.”
“Really?” Graham turned to look at him. He shrugged. “They lost me before we made it to the river.”