Robert frowned at where the healer was examining Samet. Lord Vadin’s son had not only taken a blade for his children, he’d willingly cut off his own hand. If his actions were because he was in love with Ethan, then… He shook his head. “Meghan?”
“The hand has almost fully regrown.” She stretched one of the fingers back, causing Samet to wince and curse. “The nerves and tendons are intact. It will not be as dexterous or sensitive as the original, but it is functional.” She looked up at Samet. “I want a copy of all your notes on this potion.”
“I want you to stop poking me and making me drink that vile green concoction.” Samet shook his head.
“You recently cut off your hand.” She narrowed her eyes.
“And regrew it.” He glared back. “Without your help.”
“If you’d had my help you might have done a better job of it.” She glared at him. “The full course of the blood restorative is necessary.”
“I can set you on fire.” Samet growled.
“Your recent exertions only exacerbated the the difficulties with the healing process, creating additional strain on your body.” She shoved the potion toward him.
“With my mind.” His eyes started to glow.
“Samet.” Tabitha’s voice was quiet. “Do as the nice healer tells you.”
“You know they make it taste terrible on purpose?” Samet looked over his shoulder at her.
“Yes dear.” Her voice became firm. “Now drink it.”
He made a grumbling sound before downing the potion. Robert just shook his head. “Thank you, Meghan.”
“You’re welcome, your majesty.” She gave a small bow before exiting the room.
“Your father’s forces have withdrawn. With you loose and the coalition forces withdrawing from the castle, it seems Vadin isn’t interested in wasting the forces needed to take and hold it.” He sighed. “I should never have made you come to the summit.”
“King Robert…” Samet sat up. “There are only two people in this world who have ever forced me to do anything. Ethan killed one.” He shook his head. “You married the other.”
He laughed. “I just wanted to say thank you, and to…” Robert shook his head. “Apologize for how I treated you upon your arrival, and for the assassins I sent after you prior to that.”
“I do have a bit of news for you.” He scratched the back of the scarred hand. “I was able to make a limited contact with Enesuriel. She verified that Vincent and Sarah are both alive and not in my father’s custody.”
“Then they are on their way back?” Tabitha immediately sat up straighter.
“I…” Samet frowned. “Think so. Enesuriel can be very difficult to understand when she gets excited and there was something about Vincent needing a new sword before they could continue.”
“But they are alive and your father doesn’t have them.” Robert nodded. He patted Samet’s shoulder. “Thank you again.” He looked up when Ethan entered, carrying a tray of food. “We should let you get dinner and some sleep.” And figure out exactly what he was going to say to his brother later.
“King Sikander.” Graham bowed. “I thought you’d left.”
“I was leaving…” Sikander slowly nodded. “And I realized I’d not yet said all my farewells.” He glanced up at the landing above. “My lady Margaret, may I have a quick word?”
She walked down the stairs, smiling. “King Sikander.” She curtsied. “Thank you again for your help.”
“Thank you, my lady.” He bowed, then gave a small shrug. “My lady, if you are agreeable, I would like you to tell your father there is a matter he and I should discuss.”
“And what matter is that?”
He caught her hand. “Your hand, my lady.” He pressed a kiss to the back of it.
“I will speak to him.” She smiled, a hint of red coming to her cheeks.
“Then I hope to see you again soon.” He returned her smile before bowing and walking from the foyer.
“How is your hand?” Ethan sat down next to him.
Samet held it up. “My fingernails are purple.” He sighed. “I really did think it was the laceroot causing that.”
The skin of the hand looked it was covered in healed burns. Ethan caught it in his, and gently ran his fingers across it. The scar tissue felt strange beneath his fingers. “Can you feel that?”
“As though you were touching me through a glove.” Samet sighed.
He bent, and pressed Samet’s hand to his lips. “Perhaps with more healing, we can…”
The fingers of Samet’s other hand brushed through his hair. “I have another.”
“I’m yours, master.” Ethan went to his knees, bowing his head.
“As I am yours.” Samet ran his scarred fingers down Ethan’s cheek. “I love you, Ethan.”
Ethan smiled. “You know, you didn’t have to take on an army to prove that. I already knew.” He put his hands on Samet’s knees, then slid them upward. “You look tired, master. Let me serve you.” He gazed up at Samet. “Please.” He began unfastening Samet’s trousers.
“Who is your master, Ethan?” Samet smiled.
“You are, master.” He traced the tip of his tongue down Samet’s already hardening shaft, then smoothly began pulling Samet’s trousers down. He pulled back to strip off his tunic before taking just the first taste of Samet into his mouth and running his tongue around it gently. Slowly, he moved his head down, letting Samet’s fullness slip deeper into his mouth and throat. Samet’s fingers tangled in his hair, tightening just below the threshold of pain. He moved his hand, caressing between Samet’s legs. A small thrill of pleasure shot through him as he heard Samet’s soft gasp.
He began to suck more forcefully, moving his head up and down, caressing Samet as his lover began to moan beneath his ministrations. He took Samet in deep, feeling him on the back of his throat, and then hummed. Samet’s body twitched in response to the motion, and he heard a sound that was somewhere between a whimper and a laugh. He did it again, and this time Samet’s pleasure was audible. He smiled before going back to work with his tongue
Samet’s hips rose, and a moment later he started twitching. Warm saltiness filled his mouth, and he took it all, waiting for Samet to release his hair before reluctantly removing his mouth. He kissed the tip of Samet’s shaft before crawling up into his lap. Samet put his arms around Ethan, pulling him close. “Good boy.”
“Thank you, master.” He kissed Samet’s throat before snuggling deeper into his arms.
“Graham, I have a rather strange question for you.” Robert folded his arms as he gazed out the window.
“These are strange times, Robert.” Graham continued sorting paper into piles.
“What do I do about the fact that Samet is in love with Ethan?”
Graham put his hands down on the desk. “Oh, thank the gods. I was worried I was going to have to break that news to you.”
Robert turned around. “You knew about this?” He stared.
“It became fairly obvious when the first thing that happened after Ethan woke Samet up was they kissed.”
“Wait…” Robert blinked. “Ethan and Samet kissed?” His eyes widened. “Ethan is…” He stared. “With Samet?”
“You…” Graham slowly shook his head. “Didn’t know that part.”
“Four years ago I had to drag Ethan down the stairs by the earlobe after catching him trying to peek into the women’s bath chamber.” Robert ran a hand through his hair. “Why would I even begin to suspect that he…” He took several deep breaths. “Did you know Tabitha wanted me to talk to Samet about marrying him to Margaret?”
“Ah.” Graham looked away. “Yes. Well. No.”
“Graham.” Robert narrowed his eyes. “Do you know something about Margaret and Samet?”
“No, no, definitely no.” Graham shook his head.
“What do you —”
“Robert, I beg you to stop asking me questions.” Graham winced.
He leaned back against the wall, setting his head against it. “Blood of the gods. Next I’m going to learn that the reason Vincent and Sarah aren’t back yet is they’ve decided to ride off together on the back of a unicorn or something.”
“You and Uncle Ethan.” Samet turned at the sound of Margaret’s voice. She grinned. “Does Father know yet?”
“Actually, yes.” Samet shrugged. “Sort of.”
“He does?” She blinked.
“He asked me if I was in love with Ethan.” Samet leaned back against the wall. “I answered the question honestly.”
Margaret laughed. “What did his face look like?”
“Something reminiscent of a flummoxed ox.”
“I need to talk to him.” She hesitated, folding her arms across my chest. “King Sikander asked if I…” She smiled. “He wants to talk to Robert about my hand.”
“And I take it you are agreeable to this notion?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“I am. You know…” She chuckled. “Until I realized you and Uncle Ethan were…” She shrugged. “If it weren’t for him, I’d be batting my eyes at you.”
“If it weren’t for your Uncle Ethan, I’d have already carried you off.” He smiled. “Do ensure that Sikander knows that I consider you a dear friend if not a sister, and I am known to have a few minor over-protective tendencies.”
“The first archway was difficult, but it was also the one my father had been feeding.” Samet looked over the map. “Feeding the archway takes time, and he hasn’t had enough of that regarding the other two. Sealing them will still be difficult, but the danger won’t be from the archway itself.”
“Then what are the dangers?” Robert frowned.
“In both instances, getting to them. For the first, I was able to avoid…” He gave Robert an apologetic look. “The massive enemy army by simply going through the Beyond instead. And as you may have noticed, I ended up getting caught.” He tapped the map, then straightened. “Where is…”
“Left side of the desk, next to the your teacup,” Ethan said.
Samet retrieved the scroll, and laid it out atop the map. “The second archway lies in the Brizlin forest.” He tapped the map. “In addition to the twenty foot long carnivorous lizards and spear-wielding goblins, the defenses crafted by Sorcerer-King Drugal remain in place.” He touched the scroll. “I have collected several accounts from travelers who have approached that area, and they all claim such events as the trees coming to life and music that drove people insane. I must conclude we are dealing with fey, a form known as Rusayaka.”
“I have absolutely no idea what those are.” Robert shook his head.
“They are in many ways closer to demons than faeries. Prelate Graham can tell you what Varorgirin is capable of.” He looked up at Robert. “She avoids Rusayaka. My research has led me to believe there are ways of defending against their magic, methods of purification that make a person immune. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to actually have the opportunity for testing.”
“You’re telling me that if I send people with you, some of them are going to die.” Robet slowly nodded. “I already knew that.”
“There is a difference between…” Samet sighed. “To pass the bridge, a mage must cast a spell at a specific location. The individual who does that is going to die, and there is nothing I can do to prevent that from occurring. Their life force will be expended by the spell.” He leaned on the table. “And it follows that anyone willing to volunteer for such a task is the sort of person this world can scarce afford to lose.”
“The choice of who to send with you is mine, Samet. Not yours. You let me bear that weight.” Robert looked down at the map. “What else do you require?”
“I’ll need…” He started to turn toward the stacks of books again.
“Third bookcase, second shelf, on the right.” Ethan pointed.
“Top drawer of your wardrobe, all the way to the back.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve figured out why I keep putting things there.” Samet retrieved the items. “I’ll need blackened iron. And not the stuff the blacksmiths sell for talismans. The real thing.” He handed Robert a scroll. “That’s the process, if they don’t know it. Every soldier should have blackened iron on their person.” He shrugged awkwardly. “And there is really no good way to put this but I’m going to need at least three decent warriors who are innocent. As in…” He sighed. “Virgins.” When Robert stared at him he rolled his eyes. “It’s a faery thing.”
“May I ask how you had planned to handle this undertaking without allies?” Robert gave him a skeptical look.
“Do you want my honest answer?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, actually.” Robert nodded. “I like having a plan B.”
“I was going to leave this one to last and sell my soul to a demoness in order to bypass all of this.”
“What?” Ethan’s head came up sharply.
“I never said it was a good plan.”
“Get a new plan B.” Robert shook his head. “And the third archway?”
“Again, the problem is location.” Samet looked down at the map, then set his finger on it. “It’s here.”
“The third archway is in Castle Atrios?” Robert blinked.
“How do you think my father got his hands on the dragoncrown in the first place?” Samet sighed. “Father was willing to let the soulstorm loose on Talidir while control of the dragoncrown was perfected, but he was not willing to risk his own people.”
“What if we got the dragon —”
“No.” Samet’s voice was flat.
“If it can —”
“My father getting his hands on the dragoncrown is what started him down this path, Robert. Once the archways are sealed, we will be able to destroy that monstrosity and I intend to do exactly that.”
“Understood.” Robert nodded. “I will trust to your judgment.” He stood there, silently, then took a deep breath. “Samet, about you and Ethan…” He shifted his weight from foot to foot and then just shook his head. “I guess all I can really have to say is welcome to the family.”
“I…” Samet blinked. “Thank you.”
Graham took a deep breath before looking at the mages who had gathered. “I need a volunteer.”
“Prelate, you need only ask and any one of us would…” Theo started shaking his head.
“You are the members of your order that I know and trust. I consider each and every one of you my friend.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “I am asking one among you to undertake a task that will result in your death. There is no uncertainty. No miraculous chance. No odds to beat. If you do this, you will die. If you do not, we cannot reach the archway.” He took a deep breath. “I need a volunteer.”
“You have twelve of them.” Anaya smiled. There was a murmur of agreement. “We will draw straws.”
Robert looked over his commanders. “I will need three volunteers.” He took a deep breath. “And there is a small catch.”
Ethan looked up as a gray robed woman entered. His fingers itched for a blade, then Samet’s hand touched his knee. Samet rose. “My lady?”
“Deanna.” She smiled. “Prelate Graham said you have a spell to teach me.”
“And these…” He searched for a polite phrasing. “Youngsters are competent warriors?” Samet gave Sir Jakob a skeptical look.
Jakob offered him one of the practice blades. “I suppose you can test them?”
Samet looked down at the blade. “Refresh my memory.” He frowned. “Which end of that am I supposed to grip?”
“I uh…” Jakob withdrew the sword. “I’ll just go test them.”
“Awkward in the barracks lately?” Ethan raised an eyebrow at Sir Matthew.
“It didn’t really get too bad until we had to clarify what, er…” Matthew shrugged. “Counted as…” He sighed. “There are things you just can’t unhear.” He winced. “Healer Meghan took notes and we all received several lectures on appropriate hygiene procedures.”
“I…” Ethan shook his head. “Don’t want to know.”
“It’s strange.” Ethan leaned out the window, looking up at the stars. “Knowing that Robert and Tabitha know and are…” He shook his head. “Accepting.” He glanced over at where Samet was looking over a scroll, and shook his head fondly. Then he walked over, lifted Samet’s tunic, and brushed his fingertips over the warm flesh beneath.
Samet made a squealing sound and danced away. “Bloody hell.”
“Is something wrong?” He gave Samet an innocent look, trying to fight back his laughter.
“You know…” Samet narrowed his eyes. “If you want a good spanking you could just ask.”
“I thought that’s what I just did.” He grinned.
“Who is your master, Ethan?” Samet smiled.
“You are, master.” He sank to his knees, then looked over his shoulder before turning back to Samet. “You’ve never tied me to a bed before, master.”
“You know…” Samet set the scroll aside. “I do believe you are right.”
“One of us…” Samet finished binding Ethan’s left ankle to the bed post. “Is going to have to come up with an explanation for what befell the curtain cords.” He slid his finger under the knot to ensure it wasn’t too tight.
“Gnomes, master.” Ethan murmured from where he lay face down on the bed.
“Gnomes?” Samet looked up at him.
“Yes, master.” Ethan nodded.
Samet sat down on the bed, then stretched out next to him. “Do you think they’ll believe that?”
“They might, master.” Ethan was silent for a moment, then gave him a confused look. “Master?”
“Yes Ethan?” Samet crossed one ankle above the opposite knee.
“Are you going to…” Ethan raised his head.
“I was thinking about it…” Samet chewed his lower lip. “Then I remembered how someone thought it was funny to tickle me with freezing hands.” He patted Ethan’s bare bottom lightly, then reached up to shift the pillow so he could lay next to Ethan more comfortably. “So are we claiming the gnomes broke in, or…”
“We could say it was a summoning gone awry, but that could raise its own awkward questions.” Samet tapped his lips.
“What was that?”
Ethan lifted his head. “Have mercy, master. Please. I’m sorry, master. Please take mercy on me, master.”
He sat up, looking at Ethan. He brushed lightly across Ethan’s body, from shoulder to thigh and then back again. Then he rose and stripped out of his own clothing before going to the fireplace and adding another log. Samet watched the fire catch, then walked back over to the bed and looked down at the man spread helpless upon it. Ethan’s feet were off limits, but the rest of his body was entirely at his mercy. He trailed his fingers up Ethan’s inner thigh, then caressed between his legs. “Mercy, hmm?”
“Ethan…” He hesitated. “You may not enjoy this.”
“Will you, master?” Ethan turned to look at him.
“Then so will I, master.” Ethan nodded.
He took a piece of cloth from the nightstand and crumpled it into a ball before holding it up to Ethan. Ethan obediently opened his mouth, and Samet placed the cloth inside. He picked up another, and held it up to Ethan’s hand. When Ethan gave him a confused look, Samet smiled at him reassuringly. “If you reach your limit, drop this, and I will stop.” He waited for Ethan to nod and take the cloth.
Then he pounced upon the bed, calling his magic to him as he did so. His fingers glowed as he raked them down Ethan’s body. His fingertips crackled with electricity every time they made contact with Ethan’s flesh. Ethan bucked beneath him, and Samet straddled him. He slid his oil slicked fingers inside, then added a jolt of the magic. Ethan thrashed, making a sound somewhere between a moan and a scream that was all but silenced by the gag. Samet drove himself inside, feeling the tight muscles give way as he pushed himself in deeper. His fingertips trailed back up Ethan’s body, making the younger man arch his back and strain against the bonds, nearly bucking him off. Samet arched his own back, pushing his full length into his thrashing lover. He glanced at the cloth and noted Ethan still holding it in a tight fist.
He moved, his thrusts hard and deep. Samet grunted, then leaned forward to sink his teeth into Ethan’s shoulder. To his delight, Ethan pushed back against him, tightening his muscles. Samet caught Ethan’s earlobe gently in his teeth for a moment before releasing it again. He could see a dazed look in Ethan’s half closed eyes, and a small smile on his face. And then he felt Ethan twitch as he came beneath him. Samet sat up, arching his own back as his world briefly exploded.
Samet collapsed onto the bed, careful not to land on Ethan. He reached up, and pulled the gag from between Ethan’s teeth. “Are you alright, Ethan?”
“Master?” Ethan blinked up at him.
“The tapestry is on fire, master.”
“Bloody hell.” He turned and called up ice to douse the flames. He shook his head. “When did that happen?”
“When you bit me, master.” Ethan laughed softly.
“Alright…” He lay back down, staring at the ceiling. “Ethan?”
“That’s really the kind of thing you should drop the cloth for.”
“But master…” Ethan lifted his head. “You said if I dropped the cloth, you’d stop.”
Samet started laughing.