He woke to pain and a horse nuzzling his head. Carefully, he tried moving. His ribs ached, but there was no sharp twinge. Samet sat up, and regretted it immediately as his head started to swim. He turned to the side and vomited.
After wiping his mouth, he shifted to check his prize. The athame’s dull gleam reflected a light that was not present, and the cracked blue stone set into the hilt seemed to gaze back at him. He tucked it away again, careful not to let it touch his bare skin.
It took him three tries to get to his feet, and even then he had to lean heavily on the horse. Samet dug another potion from the saddlebag, and drained it before patting the horse’s neck. “Alright. Let’s see about getting ourselves out of here, shall we?” The horse nickered at him. “Yes, I know, but it is difficult enough trusting you with this.” He sighed. “Come, boy. It’s time to head west.”
He went on his toes again to ease the pressure in his shoulders. Lord Vadin had bound his each of his wrists to pillars before doing the same to his ankles. The pillars were just high enough that his heels only brushed the floor. The warlord had gagged him, and then added a blindfold as well. Then he’d been left, spread naked and blind, to await Lord Vadin’s amusement.
Not for the first time, Ethan considered that the being left to wait was second only to the iron when it came to the tortures Lord Vadin inflicted. With the addition of the blindfold, what few ways he had to judge the passage of time were eliminated. And the room was cold.
From time to time, he felt hands on his body. Some caressed. Some inflicted pain. No one spoke to him, leaving the violations curiously alien. Lord Vadin’s retainers reminding him that he was entirely at their mercy. Displayed for their entertainment. Two of Lord Vadin’s bodyguards, some lords, a scholar, the scribe, and the woman. After Lord Vadin, he feared the woman most.
A slight draft. Someone had entered the chamber. He could just make out footsteps approaching him. And then fire stung across his back. His scream was muffled by the gag. He braced himself. The footsteps moved around him. Another lash, this one across the front of this thighs. It continued. Each time the lash struck a different location, and with the blindfold, he could not prepare himself for the blows. He lost count shortly before he lost consciousness.
He woke to the healer’s hands sending her magic through him. He had a moment to realize he was still bound when he heard Lord Vadin’s voice. “Are you enjoying yourself, Ethan?” Some part of him wanted to scream defiance through the gag. All he actually managed was a shaking sob. “I am actually somewhat impressed. Just a month ago, you only managed to take sixty three blows before passing out on us.” A hand brushed his cheek. “You’re up to over a hundred now.”
He groaned behind the gag, and then felt it removed. “Ethan?”
“Yes…” His breath came in pants. “Master?”
Lord Vadin’s hand encircled his throat. “Ask me to continue.”
“Ask me to whip you again, Ethan. Say please.”
“I…” Ethan felt tears dampening the blindfold. His voice shook. “Please whip me again, master.”
A hand patted his cheek.
And the lash came again.
“Samet of Atrios.”
He set his drink down as the tavern around him abruptly went silent. Then he looked up at the group of knights that were facing him. Two held crossbows aimed in his direction. “Never heard of him.”
“On the orders of King Robert, you are under arrest.”
Samet sighed. “Alright. Let us assume, for just a moment, that we are in Talidir and you actually do have the authority to arrest me…” He leaned back in his chair. “Four?” He leaned forward, and stuck his fork into one of the carrots on the plate. “Come back when you are serious.”
“Aim low.” The knight turned to the crossbowman to his right. “We need him to live long enough to get to the healer.”
The crossbowman smirked and fired the bolt at Samet’s leg. It flew halfway across the room, then stopped, hanging in midair a few feet from Samet. Samet lifted his hand, and drew a circle in the air with his finger. The bolt spun so that the tip was aimed at the man who’d fired it. He gestured lazily, and the bolt flew back, taking the crossbowman high in the shoulder. His teeth crunched into the carrot, and he speared another.
For a moment, the other knights just stared at their wounded comrade. Then the first two drew their blades as the third loosed the crossbow bolt. Samet stopped the bolt and sent it through the foot of the knight in the lead, pinning the limb to the floor before rising. He grabbed his goblet, focusing a tendril of energy into the water before hurling the boiling liquid into the second knight’s face. The man screamed and began wiping at his face and eyes. Both crossbow men were still reloading when he focused additional tendrils of magic. The strings on both crossbows snapped.
He set the goblet back on the table before calmly standing. “I admit to being curious as to why King Robert has chosen now to send you after me?”
With a grunt, the first knight pulled his foot free of the floor. He gripped his blade and started for Samet again. Samet focused, and the next tendril of magic caught the knight by the throat, lifting him off the ground. The man clawed at the invisible binding as he began choking, and Samet turned his gaze to the single uninjured man still dumbly holding the crossbow. Most of the rest of the tavern’s patrons had cleared out. “Have I done something to incur King Robert’s recent ire?”
The crossbow man howled something before charging, drawing his sword as he did so. The scalded man also rose again, sword in hand, and the man with the bolt in his shoulder drew his blade as well, proving that survival was not high on their list of priorities. He flung magic, sending all three men flying back. They hit the back wall, and slid to the ground. One remained still, while the other two tried weakly to get back to their feet.
Belatedly, he realize the last man still hung in the air. His feet were thrashing frantically. Samet released the spell, sending the man crashing to the ground where he choked and coughed. “Your name?”
“I am Sir Vincent.” The man fumbled for the hilt of his sword.
“Did you know, Sir Vincent…” Samet raised an eyebrow. “You are the first man to ever attempt to take me alive and conscious?” He shook his head. “Really my good man, you may wish to add the word ‘subtle’ to your vocabulary.”
“Not a mistake I’ll make again.” The knight narrowed his eyes.
“Good. I do so hate having to repeat myself.” Samet glanced at where the tavern’s owner was cowering behind the bar. He removed a coinpurse from his pocket, and tossed it to him. “That should cover my tab.” He gestured at the wounded knights. “And drinks for these gentlemen.” He picked up another glazed carrots off the plate, and bit into it. “Do give your wife my regards. These are excellent.”
The blindfold was left on as he was dragged into another room. The guards holding his arms threw him over the sawhorse. Almost instinctively, he started to struggle. Lord Vadin caught his hair. “Ethan.”
He made himself go still. “Yes, master?”
“There are guests that wish to be entertained.”
“Yes, master.” He felt his wrists and ankles bound before a strap was put around his waist. The blindfold was left in place.
“Now, Ethan. We are going to play a game.” Lord Vadin ran a hand over his shoulder. “You’ve made some new friends. They are going to…” He patted Ethan’s head. “Visit. If you identify them incorrectly, you lose.” Amusement tinged his voice. “You won’t enjoy losing. Are you ready to play, Ethan?”
From somewhere to the left, he heard quiet murmuring. Multiple voices. He couldn’t tell how many were about to watch his humiliation. He swallowed. “Yes, master.”
“Please…” He took a deep breath. “Play with me, master.”
He’d barely gotten the words out when someone grabbed his hips. He cried out when his assailant pushed inside. Someone laughed.
Lord Vadin looked at the young man curled tightly in the kennel. He was right. Ethan had not enjoyed losing their little ‘game’. Though he had rigged it just a little. Two of those that had take their turn had never used the prisoner before.
He fastened his bracers. Most of his guests had been amused by the prince’s ordeal. And the others… Well, they’d gotten the message. If he could do that to no less than King Robert’s heir, what could he do to them? He left the chamber, and walked down to the prison cell.
The guards opened the door for him, and he entered. The sole occupant of the cell gave him a look of utter hatred. Lord Vadin smiled. “Did you enjoy the show, Jakob?”
Chains drew the knight back as he tried to lunge forward. “Hellspawn.”
“Possibly.” Lord Vadin chuckled. “The prince was what…” Lord Vadin rubbed his chin. “Three years old, when King Robert first charged you with his safety? Fifteen years. You watched him grow up.”
The knight shook his head, fury and disgust warring on his face. “You will pay.”
“You had your chance, Jakob. Twice now.” Lord Vadin shrugged. “You abandoned him to my mercy. And then you failed to rescue him.” He waved a hand. “He doesn’t yet know why I punished him earlier. Or that you were part of the audience. Should I tell him?”
“I’ll not help you hurt him more.”
“I wonder.” Lord Vadin tapped his chin. “When I first captured him, do you know why he bent knee?” He tilted his head at Jakob. “To save you and your fellows.” Jakob turned away, hanging his head. His lips curled in something like a snarl, but he did not reply. “I wonder…” Lord Vadin clasped his hands behind his back. “What would he give me now, if I offered your life in exchange?”
Jakob lunged at him again, and Lord Vadin laughed.
“Stop right there.” Two armed men stepped out into the path. From the way they both looked around them, at least two more had to be in the nearby bushes. “Throw down your weapons and surrender.”
Samet sighed, then casually tossed his walking stick aside. “Would you mind telling me how much further to Ralenvale?”
“You won’t be seeing it.” The taller of the two men smirked. “You’re worth gold.”
“It is possible this is a case of mistaken identity.”
“You’re Samet of Atrios.” The shorter man started toward him, pulling manacles out of his belt pouch as he did.
“Ah.” Samet nodded. “So you really are that stupid.”
He sat, watching his prisoner calmly. He’d bound Ethan’s hands behind his back, then secured his bound wrists to a chain that hung from a pulley. He’d raised the chain until Ethan was on tiptoe, half bent forward as his own weight tugged at his shoulders. He’d been standing like that for almost an hour now, and there was a sheen of sweet over his entire body. The prince’s breath was a combination of ragged gasps and whimpers, but he did not plead for release. Lord Vadin had told him not to.
Once more he read through the letter on his desk. He was sending Sir Jakob back to report to King Robert. The only real question was whether to cut off the man’s hands first. For a time, he’d considered telling Ethan about the failed rescue attempt. But it was so much fun, watching the hope die a little more each day. He picked up a report, and waved it briefly at the captive. “I’ve news.”
Ethan’s voice was hoarse. “What is it, master?”
“You’re an uncle again.” He smiled. “The queen gave birth to a son.” He saw Ethan’s eyes widen as realization came. “Guess you know why rescue hasn’t come.”
The prince closed his eyes, and went back to looking at the floor in front of him. “Yes, master.” The words were little more than a whisper.
Lord Vadin smiled before picking up the leather strap. He walked behind Ethan, and ran a hand over the young man’s buttocks. He squeezed, then ran a hand between Ethan’s legs. The young man spread them obediently. “Please fuck me, master.”
“I will. Don’t worry.” He gave Ethan’s balls a slight twist, just enough to make Ethan whimper. “But I think I’ll warm you up a bit, first.” He stepped back and brought the strap down across the top of Ethan’s thighs.
The woman and another man entered the room behind Master. Ethan dropped to his knees, his head bowed. Master walked over to him and grabbed a handful of hair, pulling his head up. He looked down at Ethan before rather unceremoniously dragging him to the table, and hauling him onto it, face up. He caught the short chain fastened to the collar, and used it to drag Ethan across the table until his head was hanging off the other side.
He stayed where he’d been placed, knowing that to move without permission would invite greater pain than whatever it was they had in store for him. He felt the woman probe him, her fingers slick with the lubrication. She stepped away. Master came to his head, unfastening his trousers, and the other man went to the other side. He closed his lips obediently around Master’s cock just as the other man unceremoniously forced his way inside. He had to fight the urge not to bite down.
A hand wrapped around his shaft and began to rub, gently. The woman’s other hand stroked his chest in a soft caress. He hated her, hated more how she could bring him pleasure despite what the other two were doing to him. If he could see her hands, they’d have the soft glow that indicated a spell. Master had laughed when she’d made him cum while he was being whipped, and the worst part was he’d been made to thank her for it.
Master hauled him to the floor when they’d finished, and ordered him to go clean himself up and return. He scrambled to obey.
The other man had left when he returned a few minutes later. “Bring a crop and come here.” Master gestured.
Ethan picked up the softer of the two crops and carried it to Master, bowing when he offered it. Master grabbed the short chain, and hauled up until Ethan was on his toes and gasping. “I’m impressed.” The woman chuckled. “You’ve broken him rather thoroughly.”
“Samet will arrive next month. I’m going to give Ethan to him.” He let Ethan down enough to breath. “My son. Samet. He was fond of Talit.”
“Yes, master.” He’d heard of the son. A sorcerer. The guard had told him of the time Samet had immolated a servant for spilling his drink.
Master let go of the collar, and took hold of his hair again. He was hauled to the bed, where the woman laid back. His head was placed between her legs. Ethan set about his task, and heard the woman moan as she took hold of the collar to keep him in place.
The crop was brought down on his shoulders. He cried out, and she laughed in response to the sensation.
“Samet of Atrios.”
“Oh…” Samet rubbed his forehead as he looked at the rather bedraggled soldiers blocking his path. Two of them were actually carrying sickles rather than swords. “For the love of…”
Lord Vadin kept hold of the collar, forcing Ethan to arch his neck and back. The young man’s palms were flat on the bed on either side of him as he looked up at the ceiling, and his hips moved as he raised and lowered himself atop Lord Vadin. Lord Vadin smiled to himself, relaxing as his prisoner did the work.
He ran a hand down Ethan’s arm. “Have I told you of my son?” He smiled. “He once burned a man’s eyes out of his head when the fool displeased him.” He caressed Ethan’s hip. “You will please him, won’t you, Ethan?”
The young man’s voice was hollow. “Yes, master.”
Samet stood on the rise, looking down at the lights of the city below. Some flickered and moved, torches and lanterns in the hands of those going about their lives. His father had claimed Rohil two years previously, and moved his court to the elegant city. The stone walls had been built in previous ages, and yet still stood proud and unmarred. There was magic woven into the mortar, ancient wards and still older magic, leaking out from the ruins upon which the city had been built. Time out of mind, when gods had still walked among men.
Rohil. The bastion of the last of the Sorcerer-Kings. His father was not exactly known for his subtlety. He stroked the horse’s nose, and for several seconds, considered just continuing on. Samet shook his head. No. If he was to be successful, he was going to need resources.
And perhaps, just maybe, there was still a chance it would all be unnecessary.
Vadin strode across the hall the moment he saw the door open. “Samet.” He pulled his son into an embrace.
“Father.” Samet smiled.
“I was beginning to worry.” He gestured for Samet to follow him. “Foolish of me, I know.” He looked Samet over, then shook his head. “Look at you. When was the last time you sat down to a proper meal?” He frowned at a tear in the hem of Samet’s coat. “Trouble on the road?”
“There were several groups that made very poor life decisions.” Samet shrugged. “Far too many desperate men on the road these days.”
“My soldiers will clear them out soon enough.” He led Samet to the war table, and gestured at the scene. “We’ve taken most of the seaports along the dragon coast.”
“Impressive.” Samet looked over the spread of army and territory. The army and territory he would one day inherit. His scion, the sorcerer-king. “I had not heard Candlemere had fallen.”
“Two weeks ago.” Vadin nodded. “I’ve instructed that the contents of it’s library be brought here, for your use.” His smile was proud. It would be interesting to see what his son could do with that resource.
“Thank you.” Samet nodded.
“You’ll want to settle in.” He gestured toward one of the servants. “And I’ve a gift for you.”
“Oh?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“Talit’s killer fell into my hands.” He folded his arms. He’d intended his bastard to one day be the general to his trueborn son and heir, and had raised the boys to be brothers. “He is yours now, to do with as you please.”
“Talit’s death was a loss to us all.” Samet straightened, then put his hand on Vadin’s shoulder.
He reached forward and put his hand on the back of Samet’s neck, pulling his son closer until their foreheads touched. His vision blurred for a moment. “It is good to have you safely home.”