Samet shook his head. When his father had spoken of giving him Talit’s killer, the last thing he’d been expecting to find waiting for him was a terrified teenager. The kid’s face was pale, the pallor of one who hadn’t seen the sun in some time combined with fear. His father’s idea of a sick joke, perhaps? He’d damn the man, if he weren’t fairly certain the fates had already done so. Revenge for his half-brother’s death was one thing. This was… Something else entirely. “How long have you been a prisoner here?”
“Since shortly before winter, master.” It was nearly winter again. He’d likely been a very handsome youth, before his captivity. Dark circles under the young man’s amber eyes stood out starkly on the pale, jaundiced skin. The boy’s blond hair hung down past his shoulders, shaggy and limp. His cheeks were slightly sunken, and his body was too thin for his frame. He wore a robe of all but translucent white silk, beneath which a brand of his father’s sigil stood out on one shoulder. That combined with the collar and leash around the boy’s throat made his status clear.
He looked around the room. His father had certainly outdone himself providing every luxury. Beautiful tapestries and thick carpets held the heat in the room nicely despite the delicately patterned stained glass windows. Bookcases lined one wall, two full and four waiting. And a body-slave who looked like he hadn’t slept or eaten in days. Well, perhaps fortunately, he’d just lost his appetite. He waved at the tray that had been set on desk. “Eat. I’d hate for that to go to waste.”
Ethan watched the man warily as he ate. His old Master had given him to this man, Master’s son, with strict instructions that he was to serve, taking care of all his new Master’s needs and obey his commands. And so, he ate. Though welcome, the rich food rolled somewhat in his empty belly. His new Master was sorting through a basket of scrolls he’d brought with them, putting some onto the bookshelves and tossing others onto the desk.
The new Master was taller and thinner than the old Master, yet their features shared some similarity. New Master’s face had sharper angles, and he wore his black hair tied back and hanging halfway down his back rather than the short military haircut of the old Master. His skin was darker than old Master’s, though perhaps that was just due to the lighter colors he wore. He was muttering to himself as though he’d forgotten Ethan’s existence entirely.
He finished as much of the tray as he could, less than half of what had been on the plate. Not finishing could result in punishment, but so could vomiting the food back up. The old Master would have punished first for one, then for the other. Ethan stayed still, uncertain what would happen when his new Master’s attention fell back upon him.
“Do you have a name?”
“Do you know my name?”
The last of the scrolls was placed upon the shelf. “You can return to your quarters, Ethan.” When Ethan didn’t move, Samet raised an eyebrow. “You are dismissed.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan nodded, and headed toward the kennel that had been set into one corner of the room.
“Stop.” Ethan obeyed the command. “What are you doing?”
“Have I erred, master?” He felt fear rising in his gut. The guardsman had waxed poetic about his new Master’s affinity for fire, pointing out the sorcerer could do with a touch what the old Master did with the searing brand. It took him a moment to realize he was trembling.
He’d noticed the cage, and assumed it was for the times he occasionally required a creature for his work. It was far smaller than anything he’d have expected to contain a grown man. Ethan would not have been able to sit upright within, nor stretch his legs. Frankly, the young man wouldn’t have been able to move much at all in the cramped confines. Talit’s face came to his mind. His brother’s laughter as they raced their horses across the field. “You killed my brother.”
“Yes, master.” The boy’s voice was small, almost a whimper. Samet realized the young man was actually shaking.
Samet clenched his fists. He opened his mouth, intending to order the young man out of the room, but stopped himself. If he sent Ethan away, the assumption would be that the young man had displeased him in some fashion. He shook his head, then took another look around the room. “Get in the bed, Ethan.”
“Yes, master.” The young man crossed the room quickly. He laid face down on the bed.
With a sigh, Samet walked back to his desk. He sat down, picking up one of the scrolls he’d placed there earlier. Then he leaned his head back, and looked around the room again. Short perhaps of the desk itself, there was no other piece of furniture large enough to accommodate his own height. He sighed. It was going to be a long night.
He lay still, uncertain of what was going to happen. His new Master did not follow him to the bed, but instead went to the desk. Ethan’s stomach rolled again, and he swallowed, forcing himself to remain still. He wasn’t certain what he’d done wrong, or what the consequences were going to be.
Time passed, and the fire began to die down in the fireplace. Ethan caught himself nodding off, and jerked back to wakefulness, terrified he’d missed a command from his new Master. The man still sat at the desk, sorting scrolls into piles. The fire was all but embers when Master finally rose. The man stripped his clothes off and tossed them haphazardly over the dresser before climbing onto the other side of the bed, pulling the covers over him, and…
Ethan’s eyes widened slightly as a soft snore came from the other side of the bed only a few minutes later. He lay still, terrified of moving and inadvertently reminding the man of his presence. Exhaustion slowly began to replace the fear, and his eyes closed.
Samet growled at the tome in front of him. A combination of time and water damage had rendered half the text illegible, and procuring a different copy would have been difficult enough if they weren’t currently at war with the country that had produced the work.
“Would you care for wine, master?”
He glanced at the sound of Ethan’s voice, and waved casually. “That would be fine.” Samet began looking through the stack of scrolls. Maybe he could recreate the passage with enough cross references. The scroll he wanted was naturally was the last possible one for him to pick up. He grabbed it and sat down on the sofa. It took him a moment to realize Ethan had knelt in front of him, offering a goblet of wine. He blinked. “Thank you.” He accepted the wine.
Ethan put a hand on his knee. “You look weary, master.”
“I’m fine.” He started to unbind the scroll, and glared when he realized just how faded the text was. He was going to have a splitting headache by the time he was halfway through. A string of curses escaped him, and he fought the urge to just set the entire pile of parchment on fire. Ethan’s hand slid up his leg, and he looked down at it.
“Would you like me to service you, master?” Ethan looked up at him. Eyes wide. And if he wasn’t mistaken, there was fear behind them.
“Service…” Samet blinked. The young man actually started fumbling with the laces on his breeches. “Ethan, what are you doing?”
“Please, master. May I –”
“No.” Samet grabbed his hand by the wrist and yanked it away from his groin as he stood up. He shoved the young man back more roughly than he’d intended.
Ethan fell back on the floor, and immediately moved back to his knees, pressing his forehead against the floor. “I’m sorry, master.”
Another string of curses escaped him, and he cut himself off when he saw the young man flinch at the sound. “Ethan.”
“I’m sorry master.” Ethan repeated the words without looking up. “I’m sorry.”
“Get up.” The young man scrambled to his feet. Samet sighed, and shook his head in frustration. “What am I supposed to do with you?”
The boy cringed. “I displeased you, master. Please. I should be whipped. Please, master.”
A taste of vomit rose from the back of his throat. “Ethan…” He shook his head, and then thrust the scroll he was still holding at the young man. “Sit over there. Read through this. Get a pen and parchment and copy down all passages relating to purification by water.” He stood there, watching Ethan move to obey the command. Samet ran a hand through his hair, and belatedly realized his trousers were half undone. He grabbed the wine goblet off the table and drained it.
He scribed as instructed, taking care to keep his handwriting neat. The scroll was difficult to read due to its deterioration and rather archaic phrasing. Eventually, he found himself paying more attention to the words, occasionally going back to reread a passage of the ancient poem. It spoke of a pact between a dryad and a knight, and how the dryad had aided the knight in defending himself against a powerful demon.
Ethan was so caught up in the story he actually jumped when he heard the servant enter with the evening meal. He realized he hadn’t copied down any passages in some time. Fortunately, it appeared Master had not noticed his distraction. He rose quickly to take the tray from the servant before turning to take it to Master. Then he hesitated. Master was bent over another scroll, apparently lost in concentration. He’d already annoyed the man once by interrupting him earlier, and wondered if he’d dare take the risk again.
Or would the man be more angered if his supper became cold? Ethan looked down at the tray, and then walked to the desk. Cautiously, he moved into the man’s field of view and set the tray silently on an empty portion of the desk.
“Hmm?” Master looked up, then blinked. “Ah. Thank you.” Master shifted the scroll aside to pull the tray toward him. He stared at the tray for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder before frowning.
“Master?” Ethan frantically considered what might be missing. Did the man want tea, or wine, or…?
“There’s only one plate.” Master shrugged, then looked up at Ethan. “Where do you normally take your meals?”
“With master, master.” Ethan blinked.
“Then where…” Master shook his head. “What do you eat?”
“I eat what master does not, master.”
Master’s head came up, and he frowned again. Then he shook his head. “Which means you did not eat breakfast, because I finished the plate.” Master rubbed his forehead. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
He shifted his weight from foot to foot, and felt fear settling in his belly again. “Have I erred, master?”
“No, Ethan. I did.” Master pushed the tray back across. “Eat.”
“Take the tray over there somewhere and eat, Ethan. You can fetch me something from the kitchen later.” Master picked the scroll back up and began reading again.
He picked up the tray, and went to sit near the fire.
“There you are.” Lord Vadin smiled as his son entered the hall. He clasped Samet’s shoulder, then guided him toward the gathered group of nobles. A small smile came to his face as he saw their eyes widen. “Queen Brysala has just surrendered, on behalf of her late husband.” He gestured toward two young women, both of whom were staring nervously. “Her daughters will be our guests while the treaties are being finalized.”
Samet gave a small bow. “Welcome to Rohil, ladies. I hope you will find your stay enjoyable.”
The younger of the two girls made a small sound, but the elder managed to find her voice. “Thank you, my lord. Your father has been most hospitable.”
He introduced Samet to the rest of the nobles before dismissing them. “How is your work going?”
“Well enough.” Samet nodded. “I sent a formula to your alchemists. A minor improvement on the dragonfire, one that makes it less volatile.” He shook his head. “Less chance of roasting our own men.”
Lord Vadin chuckled. “I am sure they will be most appreciative.” He glanced in the direction the nobles had gone, then frowned. “Shall I invite the princesses to join us for dinner?”
“Father…” Samet shook his head. “Don’t.”
“Really…” Lord Vadin put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Is a couple grandchildren so much to ask?”
“Please tell me you didn’t conquer Vanidos simply because they had princesses of marriageable age.”
“Of course not.” Lord Vadin shook his head. “There were also the quarries.” He folded his arms. “Gral’s heir is also a princess of marriageable age, and such an arrangement would make conquering it wholly unnecessary.”
“I’ve met Princess Juliana.” Samet shook his head. “I suggest you send Lord Rakesh’s eldest daughter as your ambassador and let nature take it’s course.”
“Hmm…” He shrugged. “Not a bad plan. And your research into the ley lines?”
“Not going as well as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the artifact I attempted to retrieve had been destroyed, likely for more than a century.” Samet sighed. “I may have no option other than to attempt recreating it, but I will need some supplies.”
“The steward will ensure you have all you need.” He smiled. “Now, about those grandchildren…”
His eyes opened. It took him a moment to identify what had woken him. The man on the opposite side of the bed was curled into a ball, whimpering. He started to lay a hand on his shoulder, and hesitated. “Ethan?” He raised his voice slightly. “Ethan?”
Ethan jerked awake, his eyes wild. His breath came in ragged gasps. “Don’t.”
“Hey.” Samet stayed where he was rather than moving towards him. “Ethan. It’s alright. It’s alright.”
Slowly, the amber eyes started to focus. He met Samet’s eyes. “I’m sorry, master.”
“You…” Samet sighed. “Want some tea or anything?”
“I…” Ethan swallowed.
“Stay there.” Samet rose out of the bed and went where the kettle sat. He waved a hand, heating the water inside, and added the tea leaves. In the cup went a generous dollop of honey, and a drop of a vial’s contents. He poured the tea, and brought it to Ethan. He let the young man take it before he sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to make any sudden movements.
“Thank you, master.” Ethan held the tea, drawing his knees to his chest. His hands shook slightly.
“It’s okay if you drink it, Ethan.” He smiled. “But you don’t have to.” He rose, and walked back to the desk both to fix himself a cup and to give Ethan a bit of space. When he returned, Ethan was drinking the tea. Not for the first time, he wondered if making the young man share his bed was the best idea. But any other option risked his father’s attention falling back on the prince, and he was not about to put the young man into the cage. He took a sip of his own tea.
Ethan set his empty cup on the nightstand, and then watched Samet with wary eyes. Samet sighed, and set his own tea cup down. He hesitated a moment, looking back at the still shaking young man. Then he shook his head and lay back down. “Come here.”
The prince laid down next to him. Samet wrapped his arms around the young man, holding him gently. “Go to sleep, Ethan.” He punctuated his words with a slight touch of magic, giving them a bit more weight. “You are safe here.” He held Ethan as he would a small child, tucked in next to him. Slowly, the young man’s body began to relax as both the sedative and the magic did their work.
Seven days. A full week. Ethan glanced at the messy table. The only time Master had raised his voice at him had been the time he’d tried to take it upon himself to stack the papers neatly. Beyond that, the man had been mostly content to ignore him.
The man had ordered him to the bed instead of the cage the second night as well. He’d laid in the bed with his eyes closed, waiting. It was only when he heard the snore from the other side that he realized that once again nothing was going to happen. Still, it had been an uneasy night. The fourth night he’d fallen asleep before Master had laid down on the other side. He’d woken just before dawn, surprised to find the man next to him.
A full week. Seven days. He hadn’t been hungry in seven days. Hadn’t been caged or bound. Or beaten. And last night… He wasn’t sure what had happened the previous night. The door opened, and he fought the urge to flinch. “Ah, Ethan.” Master nodded to him. “Can you read Dsigo?”
Master set a satchel full of scrolls and packages of parchment down on the bed. “Excellent. Go through these, and set any that mention Rusayaka on my desk.” He frowned. “Dolovoi as well, just to be on the safe side.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan took the satchel.
“And get yourself a lapdesk.” Master started to leave, and then looked around. “Have you seen my cloak?”
“I hung it in the wardrobe, master.”
“Thank you.” Master retrieved it before leaving again.
The lieutenant spun him into the wall. Ethan remained still as the guard’s fingers yanked up his robe before grabbing the sash to use as leverage. He bit his lip against the yelp as the man roughly entered him. And then suddenly the man let out a startled noise and abruptly was yanked away. Ethan turned to see the lieutenant pressed flat against the opposite wall, his feet several inches above the floor. Master stood, one arm outstretched with the fist clenched. His eyes faintly glowed with a deep purple light. “Lieutenant Brelith, yes?” The only response was a choking noise. The guard’s face was turning red as he struggled to breath. “Let’s be very clear on this.” He waved a hand and the guard flew face first into the wall a couple feet from Ethan. He waved his hand the other direction, and the guard was pressed back against the other wall, blood streaming from his nose and mouth. “I.” The man hit the wall again. “Do.” And again. “Not.” Again. “Share.” He opened his hand, and the guard fell to the floor.
He lay there for a couple moments before spitting out a mouthful of blood and the remains of several teeth. “Yes, my lord.”
Master nodded, then glanced at Ethan. “I believe I sent you to fetch a lapdesk.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan nodded before fleeing the scene.