Gingerly, Ethan drew the robe over his shoulders, wincing as it settled. The silk was light, but still stung where it brushed the welts. Lord Vadin had not bothered to come up with an excuse for inflicting the most recent punishment, and it would be a few hours yet before the healer came by to repair the damage. Aside from the brand, he’d thus far avoided scars. Lord Vadin preferred an unmarred canvas for his work. He tied the robe closed, and picked up the tray from the table.
The guard in the hall stepped forward to block his path. Ethan forced himself not to pull away as the man ran a hand over his cheek. Lord Vadin had been very clear that the lieutenant was to be… accommodated, as long as such accommodations did not interfere with Ethan’s duties to Lord Vadin himself. He wasn’t sure how far returning the mast… Lord Vadin’s breakfast tray counted.
He did not resist as the tray was taken from him and set aside. Nor did he resist when he was spun around and slammed into the wall. The lieutenant’s lips brushed his ear as he spoke. “Your brother’s forces took the harbor back.” He rubbed a hand over the welts, and Ethan bit back a sound of pain. “I wonder what his lordship is going to do to you tonight.” He stepped back, releasing Ethan. “Bring me back one of the pies.”
Ethan picked the tray back up, and continued down the hall.
Samet turned the page as carefully as possible, then began copying the words over onto a fresh sheet. Across the table, the two scribes he’d hired were doing the same thing with other tomes. Of the eight tomes he’d come to retrieve, four would not survive transport. One of them had barely survived the trip from shelf to table. Whoever thought it was a good idea to build a library this close to the sea should really be executed.
Using the scribes was dangerous. If they told the wrong people what he’d sought in the library… And yet he was too pressed for time to handle the entirety of the work himself. Killing them both seemed the prudent option, yet the deaths of two scribes after meeting with a mysterious stranger was exactly the sort of thing that could get the wrong people interested.
Graham paced back and forth in the room he’d been given. Being in the center of Lord Vadin’s forces made him nervous, despite the Prelate robes he wore. The warlord had previously shown an unwillingness to respect the Conventions.
Which is what had brought him here in the first place. His stomach clenched. Since he’d been taken to the tower, they had no confirmation that Ethan remained among the living. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He and Robert had been friends since the day they could walk, and he considered the prince to be his nephew. If the boy was dead…
If the boy was dead any chance of peace was gone. The prince was well loved by the nobility and the people. Not that he expected there was much of a chance for peace while the warlord remained in command.
He turned when the door was opened and Lord Vadin stepped into the room. His eyes widened when he saw Ethan following a pace behind the warlord. The boy’s face was pale, and there was bruising around his left eye. He also looked thinner than he remembered, though part of that may have been the simple tunic he was wearing was too big for him. He noted that the prince was barefoot.
“Prelate Graham. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Lord Vadin nodded to him. “I believe you are here to discuss my recent acquisition?”
“I am.” Graham bowed, despite his distaste for the man. “King Robert has requested I negotiate the matter of the ransom. There appears to have been a communication difficulty.”
“There is no communication difficulty.” Lord Vadin shook his head. “I received Robert’s offer, and I rejected it. I will be keeping the prince.”
Graham didn’t miss Ethan’s flinch when Vadin waved a hand in his direction, and Graham’s eyes narrowed. “My lord, per the Conventions…”
“Ethan.” Lord Vadin turned to the prince. “Turn around.” Wordlessly, the young man obeyed. “Remove your tunic.”
Every oath of non-violence he had taken nearly flew out the window when he saw the condition of Ethan’s back. Red welts, some still bleeding, criss-crossed the ridges of older welts, and beneath those were deep purple bruises. “Blood of the gods.” He forced himself to take deep breaths.
Satisfaction was clearly visible on Lord Vadin’s face. “I have chosen to disregard the Conventions on this matter. I find the prince rather entertaining company, and thus he shall be remaining my property.”
“He’s just a boy.”
“Ethan, how old are you?” Lord Vadin glanced at the man.
“Eighteen, master.” Ethan’s voice was hoarse and hollow.
“Old enough to sit on a throne, I believe.” Lord Vadin smirked. “Though I’d wager at the moment he’d find sitting anywhere rather difficult.” He stared at Graham. “If Robert wants him, tell him to come and get him. Until then, he’ll be enjoying my…” Lord Vadin waved a hand carelessly. “Hospitality.” He glanced at Ethan. “I am sure you two have much to discuss.” He turned and left the room.
Immediately, Graham went to Ethan. He flinched when he saw that there were welts across Ethan’s chest as well. “Ethan.”
“Don’t tell Robert. Please, Graham. He’ll…” Ethan shook his head frantically. “Lord Vadin wants to bait him, make him so angry he’ll make mistakes. He wants Robert to go on the offensive, to…” He met Graham’s eyes. “Don’t tell him.”
“I have to tell him, Ethan.” He started to put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, and stopped himself when Ethan flinched at the gesture.
“My men. Vincent. Did they…” Ethan looked away.
“They made it back. Told us Vadin had only kept you.” Graham sighed. “Vincent realized when the villagers went with them that you must have…”
“I bent knee. He let them go.” Ethan’s voice was dull.
“Ethan.” He felt his stomach twist.
“Don’t tell Robert.” The words were little more than a whisper. “Please.”
He felt a tear escape and run down his face. “I have to tell him.”
“Won’t want me back, if he…”
“Oh sweet mother.” Graham felt bile rise in his throat. “Ethan…” He took a deep breath. “Your brother won’t hold anything that happened against you. None of it. Ever.”
“I can’t…” Ethan closed his eyes. “Don’t tell him.”
Gently, he took one of Ethan’s hands, and for the first time since taking his oaths wished that he was permitted to lie. “I will tell Robert only what is necessary, Ethan.”
“Ain’t nothing here, boss.” The leader of the men he’d hired to bring him to the site shook his head. “Tried to tell you, but you were…”
“Shh.” Samet walked into tomb, looking around the empty chamber. Whatever images had been painted on the wall were lost to time and vandalism. He continued deeper in, stopping at the largest of the chambers.
The men exchanged looks with each other, rolling their eyes and snickering as they followed. The largest of them smirked, and raised an eyebrow at the leader. The leader nodded. “We’ll be wanting to get paid, now.”
“You were paid half already.” Samet ran his long fingers across the vanished pattern, feeling the stone beneath his fingertips. There was a slight tingle of energy. He nodded. “And you will be paid the rest upon our return.”
“Yeah, we talked it over.” They started drawing their weapons. “And we’ll be taking it now. And everything else in your saddle bags.” The leader smirked. “If yer smart, you’ll hand it over quiet, and you can walk away.”
“An interesting puzzle, is it not?” Samet shrugged. “If I was smart, I would hand over everything. And yet, if I was smart, I would not have come alone into the midst of the wilderness with a band of ruffians.” He felt the tingle sharpen. “Thus there are two possibilities at work.” He focused, and felt the ambient magic respond. “Either I am extraordinarily stupid…” A smile came to his face. “Or I am not in the slightest bit of danger.”
The club the leader carried was large, and bound in iron. A crude, but remarkably efficient weapon, and one that took little skill to wield. The man pointed it at Samet. “Keep talking, and maybe we’ll see if what they say about you western boys is true.”
“And what do they say, precisely?” Samet took his hand off the wall.
“You’re good with your mouths for more than just talkin nonsense.” There were several chuckles from the group.
“Oh you truly have no idea.” Samet slowly turned, and saw the men recoil, eyes widening. “Yet as I recall, they say other things as well.” The shadows in the chamber began to flicker as flames rose in the long empty empty fire pits.
“What the bloody fuck…” The leader of the men stumbled. Two in the back of the group started to turn toward the passage out, and flames rose in the hallway, blocking their path.
“I should warn you.” Samet formed the fireball in his hand. “Some of what they say is indeed true.”
Lord Vadin stared at the prelate. He had to give the man marks for courage. There were few who’d have the nerve to argue with him in his own stronghold. But then… “Prelate, you seem to believe that your robes will protect you, even here.” He folded his arms. Diplomacy was a double edged sword. The prelate was to be allowed to conduct his business without direct interference. But though he could talk all he wanted, he was also forbidden to directly interfere. “And perhaps you are correct. But I suggest you recall that they only protect you.”
“You bring threats into a negotiation?” Graham raised an eyebrow.
“Are we still negotiating?” Lord Vadin frowned. “I thought I was clear. I have no fear of your coalition. Your cities will surrender, or I will lay them to waste.”
“Your people are outnumbered, Vadin. And your supply lines are stretched too far for siege. Your position is…”
He held up a hand, and glanced at the young man holding the tray. “Ethan, do refill the goblets. I fear our guest intends to talk himself hoarse.”
The prelate began speaking again as soon as Ethan had finished the task. Vadin cut him off. “Brelith.” He glanced at the tall guard. “I am bored. Find something entertaining to do to Ethan.”
Wine splattered as the goblet fell out of the prelate’s hand. He actually took a step forward before stopping himself. “You…”
“I believe you were listing reasons I should accept terms?” Vadin lifted his own goblet to his lips. Brelith shoved an unresisting Ethan against a table, bending him over. The guard began to unfasten his own breeches. When the prelate started to turn away, Vadin shook his head. “Look away, and I’ll have them apply a hot iron to his feet.” He smiled. “And he really hates that. Screams like a cornered wildcat.”
“You son of a bitch.” Prelate Graham clenched his fists.
“Let me explain something about negotiations.” He glanced at where Brelith was working on Ethan. The prince endured the motions silently. “I told your little prince that every day he had a choice. Submit, or I would have Taladin prisoners currently in my custody burned alive. Today, I believe we have one hundred and seventeen.” He smiled. “I make the rest of your people the same offer. Surrender, or watch the flames rise.”
“Was burning all of them really necessary?” The tiny figure squeaked. “It stinks in here.”
“You complain entirely too much.” Samet unrolled another of the hidden chamber’s scrolls. “You said you knew what it was.”
“I said I would know it if I saw it.” She walked across the stone table, a voluptuous figure of a woman only seven inches tall. Her silvery wings fluttered. “That’s not it.”
Samet sighed, and looked around the chamber. There were nearly a hundred scrolls. “If only I had thought to hire some help with going through all this.”
“Oooh, shiny.” She zipped across the chamber to land in front of a copper mirror, and immediately began admiring herself from all angles.
He shook his head fondly before unrolling another scroll. Immediately he smiled. Upon the scroll was drawn a map. “Enesuriel.” He glanced over to see her still preening. “Enesuriel.”
“What?” She fluttered over and landed in front of him. “That’s it. That’s the one.”
“Alright. I’m going to collect the rest of the scrolls, and we can be on our way.”
A small sound came from her. “Just the scrolls?”
“And the mirror.” He rolled his eyes.
She squealed happily before darting back to admire herself some more.
“Prelate Graham left this morning. Rode out of here like his robes were on fire.” Lord Vadin walked a circle around his captive. “I was rather disappointed on how little effort you put into the show, Ethan. I know you can…” He touched Ethan’s leg. Despite the boy’s silence, tears had been visible on the Prelate’s face. “Sing much better than that.”
He stepped back. Ethan was suspended upside down, his ankles securely shackled to a bar. His wrists were likewise shackled, fastened to bolts that had been driven into the stone floor. The chains had been pulled taut. The prince’s head was just slightly below Lord Vadin’s waist. He intend to make use of that fact later. For now, he crouched, lowering himself until their heads were nearly at equal level. He caught Ethan’s hair, forcing the young man to look at him. “A healer once told me something interesting. She said that when suspended with one’s head below one’s center mass it is virtually impossible for one to lose consciousness.” He let go of Ethan’s head, and walked over to the table, where he picked up the single tail whip. He held it where Ethan could get a clear view of it, and saw the young man’s eyes widen. “Shall we test that theory?”
“He is refusing to ransom my brother.” Robert stared at the fire.
“Ethan believes that Vadin wants you to go on the offensive. Become so angry that you make the mistake of invading.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” Robert turned and met his eyes.
Graham closed his own eyes. He took two deep breaths before reopening them. Robert felt his stomach twist before the man could reply. “Only what Ethan asked me not to tell you.”
“Not to tell me that he’s being tortured.” Robert shook his head, and then slammed his fist into the wall hard enough that the panel cracked. “Because he doesn’t want me so angry I make the mistake of invading.” He hit the wall again, leaving a smear of red. Slowly he turned back to his friend, and saw the hollowness of his eyes. “He made you bear witness.”
“Yes.” Graham sighed. “A terrible bargain. If Ethan defends himself or tries to escape, Vadin simply orders whatever of our people he has on hand as prisoners burned alive.”
“I have heard no reports of prisoners being burned alive.” Robert shook his head, and then hit the wall again as he realized what exactly that meant. And that bastard’d had his little brother for months now. “Give word. The one that brings my brother home, alive, will be rewarded with Whitehall, and all the titles and rights that come with it.”
“Yes, your majesty.” He started to walk away.
He looked down at his bleeding knuckles. “Vadin has a trueborn son.” If rumor were accurate, said son was living proof of the darker pacts the warlord had made. “Find him.”
Samet gently lowered the copper mirror into the pool of water. Once it was fully submerged, he concentrated, calling his magic to him before he released it. It sank maybe a half inch more before vanishing. “You realize this puts you once again into my debt.” He glanced at the faery.
She fluttered up to his eye level. “A leash can be pulled from either end.” She planted a kiss on the tip of his nose before soaring up and diving into the pool. Her form vanished into the water without leaving a hint of a ripple.
He rose, and dusted his hands off on his leggings. He walked back to his horse, and gently stroked his nose before looking to the west. Then he shook his head, grabbed the reins, and began heading north.
Ethan felt the blood drain from his face when he saw Lord Vadin pacing the room. The warlord glanced up at him. Ethan closed the door behind him. “Has the healer been by?” Lord Vadin waved a hand irritably at him.
The question usually meant a new torture was to be inflicted. He could see an iron had been laid in the fire. “Yes, master.” He took a deep breath, and then approached the warlord, dropping to his knees a pace away. “May I removed your boots, master?”
His fingers began unfastening the boots as soon as they were put in front of him. As soon as the second one was removed, he spoke again. “Would master care for wine?” If he could get the edge off, perhaps he could avoid the iron, at the least.
“The red. Be fast about it.” Lord Vadin stalked to his desk, and sat down, shoving a couple pieces of parchment.
He poured the wine generously, and carried it to the desk, careful not to spill. Fighting the urge to take a deep breath, he dropped to his knees again to offer the wine. Lord Vadin snatched it out of his hand. “You look weary, Master.” Timidly, Ethan reached a hand out, stopping a hair’s breath from actually touching Lord Vadin’s knee. “May I service you, master?”
Lord Vadin blinked down at him. “Service me?”
Ethan inched closer, and then fumbled briefly for the tie on Lord Vadin’s breeches. “Please, master. May I service you?”
He felt Lord Vadin’s hand on his head, and then the fingers tightened in his hair. He let himself be pulled forward without resistance, and continued working at the knot. Slowly, he teased Lord Vadin free of the breeches, and felt pressure as Lord Vadin forced his head down into the warlord’s lap. He opened his mouth, and flicked his tongue around the end of Lord Vadin’s cock before taking it into his mouth.
Please let this be enough. Anything was better than the iron, and the scent of his own burning flesh.
The demon rose from the shadows. It’s dozen legs each ended in a spiky protrusion of bone, and still more spikes jutted from its armored torso and shoulders. In it’s hands, it held a massive axe. It roared, revealing a maw of jagged fangs.
“Oh.” Samet swallowed. “Well.” He shook his head. “The texts didn’t exactly mention you.”
He moaned slightly as he leaned back in the chair, shifting his legs further apart. Three months had certainly done wonders for his captive’s oral techniques. Lord Vadin actually gasped when he felt Ethan’s fingers gently caress his balls, while the young man’s tongue played over his shaft.
Lord Vadin pulled the young man’s head down. Ethan no longer gagged when taking his full length. When he felt the young man start to pull back, he tightened his grip on his captive’s hair and held him in place. “No.”
Ethan leaned forward again in response, and Lord Vadin felt the young man moving his tongue against the base of his shaft He smiled when he felt Ethan began to struggle for breath, but waited until he felt him actually choking before he let him back up. Just a couple months ago, he’d have had to force the young man to continue. Now, Ethan’s tongue was already at work once more, gently caressing the tip for several seconds before Ethan began to swallow his cock once more.
He came in the prince’s mouth, and was pleased when the young man did not pull away. Slowly, Ethan lifted his head, and looked up at Lord Vadin. “Would you care for more wine, master?”
His ribs burned, and one moved slightly when touched, sending a fresh wave of pain through him. The coppery taste of blood was in his mouth. Samet stumbled, barely catching himself before he fell. He clutched his prize to him as he staggered up the stairs. Call my name. The words came from the air around him
Halfway back to the horse, the world suddenly swirled around him. I can help you. Her voice seemed to whisper in his ear. Say my name. He fell to his knees, and spat out a mouthful of blood. It took three tries before he could stand again. Call to me and I will come.
He made it to the horse, and began fumbling at the saddle bags. It doesn’t have to be this hard, Samet. The knot seemed to fight him. Say my name, Samet. He drew his knife and cut the lace, dropping the knife again as he reached inside. That won’t be enough. You’ll die here, and it will be lost. It took him three tries to open the potion, and he drank the fluid down. You don’t have to do this alone. It rolled in his belly. Say my name.
Samet collapsed. There is no need for you to suffer. Just say my name. He caught the horse’s reins, wrapping them around his arm, and used them to pull himself back up as he fumbled for another potion. Say my name. He coughed, nearly choking on the potion, and then darkness claimed him. Samet…