Tabitha blinked, then looked up at where both Lucille and Justin were affixed somehow to the ceiling, laughing manically. Ethan was sitting on the floor, apparently having laughed hard enough to slide out of his chair. His shoulders were still shaking. Samet stood in the center of the room, glaring at them all with glowing eyes. “What is going on here?” She folded her arms.
“Someone…” Samet shot a look at the laughing Ethan. “Gave those two little hellions information they did not need to know.”
“Uncle Samet is ticklish!” Lucille announced gleefully. “And he can’t really turn us into frogs.”
“Frogs!” Justin laughed. “Ribbit.” He stuck out his tongue.
“I see.” She lifted an eyebrow at Samet. “And you thought that gave you the right to dirty my ceiling?”
“You know…” He rubbed his forehead as he lowered the children to the ground. “I find myself growing nostalgic for the days in which you were all afraid of me.”
“She called me Uncle Samet.”
“What?” Ethan looked up to see Samet starring at the fire with a confused expression on his face.
“Lucille.” Samet turned toward him. “She called me ‘Uncle Samet’.”
He rose, and crossed the floor to stand next to Samet. “She did.”
A small, sad smile came to Samet’s face. “Mother wanted another child. She and Father both had no siblings and…” He swallowed. “A few days before she died, she told me she thought she was expecting. We were to keep it secret, a surprised for when Father returned from…” He accepted Ethan’s embrace. “If I’d been faster, called the magic to me a few moments sooner.”
“You were just a kid, Samet.” He moved his hand to the back of Samet’s neck, drawing Samet’s head down to lay on his shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Samet’s arms tightened around him, pulling him in close. “I will not let them take you from me, my love.”
Ethan looked down at the silken rope, running his hand over it. It was softer than the curtain cords, with a pleasant silkiness. He tilted his head at it a moment, then looked up at Samet. “Where did you learn the fancy knots?”
“Excuse me?” Samet turned toward him.
“The knots you use, when you tie me up. I recognize a couple of them from boating but you…” Ethan shrugged. “You make it look kind of artistic.”
“If something is going to be done, it should be done properly.” Samet smiled.
A small frown came to Ethan’s face. “Can I ask how many, um…” He scratched a little at the side of his neck. “How many others you’ve been with? I mean it’s clear you’ve been with others cause you’ve said you’ve…”
He blinked. “Only four?”
Samet stretched his legs in front of him. “I do not believe a relationship should involve deception. However, upon learning who and for that matter what I am, most people react with fear and horror. It makes developing intimacy rather difficult.”
“But I mean…” Ethan frowned. “Given who and what you are, I’d have to think some would leap at the chance to…”
“What makes you think I would be interested in that manner of sycophant?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“Good point.” Ethan chuckled. “Anyone ever tie you to the bed?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Well, no.” Samet frowned slightly. “I have never had any particular urge to indulge in…” He gave Ethan a curious look. “Is that something you wish to try?”
“I was just curious.” Ethan set the rope down.
“I have never had the desire to be at the mercy of another. That said, Ethan, if it is something you wish to try, I would happily oblige you.” Samet nodded.
“Even though you don’t think you’d like it…” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “You’d let me tie you to the bed?”
“Well, fair play, and all. I test your limits, it is only reasonable I allow you to test mine.” He smiled. “I want you to be happy, Ethan, and I am willing to indulge your taking the lead if you desire.”
“Is it…” Ethan frowned a little. “Is it funny that I don’t?” He sat up, shifting a little awkwardly. “I mean, grabbing you for a kiss or something or…” He twitched a shoulder. “That’s one thing. I like it when you make love to me but…” He trailed off.
“Whenever I think about being the one who…” He shrugged. “It’s with a woman.” He immediately started shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to…” He shifted again. “What I meant was…” He exhaled. “I should just shut up now.”
“As I told you once before, I have enjoyed the company of both men and women. I think more would, were it not for how many disapprove of such things.” Samet sat up straighter. “Ethan, I asked you once if you’d ever been attracted to men.”
“I remember.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I told you no, and it’s the truth. I like you. I mean, I love you and I really like it when you…” He sighed. “But it’s because it’s you. That you’re a man just doesn’t seem to matter because it’s you.” He waited for a few moments, but Samet didn’t respond. “Samet?”
“From time to time, it occurs to me that I am an extremely selfish man.” Samet’s voice was quiet.
“You’re really not.” Ethan laughed a little.
“Ethan, you were badly misused, and I may not have…” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees with his head bowed. “I may have taken undue advantage of your state of mind and the —”
“No.” Ethan immediately stood up. “No.” He shook his head. “I know where you are going with that and I am saying no. Stop. I do not like it.”
“I am saying no. I am saying stop. I am saying that I do not like it.” He narrowed his eyes. “You whispered your truename in my ear, Samet. You gave me the power to stop your heart or control your mind.” He reached forward, and ran his fingers through Samet’s hair before dropping to his knees. You are my master…” He smiled. “And you belong to me.”
Samet bent his head, pressing his forehead to Ethan’s as he gently ran his hand down Ethan’s hair. “I am. And I do.”
“It’s…” Ethan shifted his position so that he could lay his head on Samet’s leg. “Easier to let you take control, to surrender and…” He sighed. “I don’t want it the other way around. And…” He laughed softly. “Let’s be honest, how many times have you ignored your needs to see to mine? This way round, I can just let you do most of the work.”
“You know, if you want a good spanking, you really can just ask.” Samet very lightly whacked him upside the head.
“I thought I just did.” Ethan chuckled.
Samet caressed his hair. He was quiet for a moment. “Ethan?”
“Yes, master?” Ethan smiled as he relaxed against Samet, enjoying the light caresses.
“If you find a woman that you are…” He shifted just a little. “And that is agreeable regarding the nature of the relationship between you and I, then…”
Ethan sat up and turned to look at him. He gave a small shake of his head. “I thought you didn’t like to share.”
“One could say this is an attempt on my part to indulge in extraordinary greed.” Samet smiled, then brushed his fingers through Ethan’s hair again. “I want you to be happy, Ethan, and to ensure your needs are fulfilled.”
“Master…” Ethan resumed his previous position. “There are days if my needs got any more fulfilled I wouldn’t be able to walk.”
He entered the room that had been his son’s. A year, and still the servants were more than a little terrified of entering the space. There was a light coating of dust everywhere. The shelves still overflowed with books and scrolls. He couldn’t even have identified half the languages. Vadin sighed.
“I will need to have word with the maids, have them get this place clean before he gets here.” How had Samet managed to… His gaze went to the kennel in the corner. The prince, of course. He chuckled. By all accounts, the boy was still fanatically loyal to his son. He shook his head before walking over to the workbench. Samet had created wonders, locating knowledge thought lost and developing his own marvels.
Still no response from the demoness. Once Samet had returned, he would arrange a proper summoning and have a few choice words with her. She’d held her end of their bargain perfectly, and had as much to gain as he did. Why she would stop answering now was a mystery. Could Varorgirin have…? No. If the hag could have overcome the demoness’s binding she would have slaughtered them all. His gaze went to the painting of Usha. “I wonder, sometimes, what marvels you could have taught our son.” What binding had she used, to ensure such a creature was still loyal under her command seventeen years after her death?
“I regret that your sacrifice was necessary, but if you could see…” He laughed. “He tore the council wall apart, told them to go to hell, then resealed them inside.” He shook his head. “Our son, the Sorcerer-King.” He smiled up at Usha’s face. “I’ll need to find him an appropriate wife. Someone who could measure up to you, beloved. Give him children that will be…” He took a deep breath. “All we could hope for.” He chuckled. “You know, I still have those wooden wagons you gave him, the ones he loved so much.” He gestured. “With the little bells.” He sighed. “You would have been a wonderful grandmother.”
“You shouldn’t be going.” Robert shook his head.
“Samet will need me there.” Ethan folded his arms.
“Ethan, you went through hell in that castle.” Robert leaned on his desk.
“Robert, I went through hell literally, and I was fine.” Ethan shrugged. “I was with Samet.”
“There is no need for you to…” He sighed. People there that had helped Vadin rape and torture his little brother.
“Robert…” Ethan took a deep breath, then met his eyes. “I’m going.” He turned, and walked out of the room.
He watched him leave, then turned and headed out the other door and down the hall. He opened the door without bothering to knock. Samet looked up from where he was examining a book and blinked. “Robert, what —?”
“He’s not going.”
“Ah.” Samet nodded. “You are concerned about Ethan.”
“Damn right I’m concerned about Ethan.” He shook his head. “What your father and his retainers did to him there…” He clenched his fists. “Did you know your father used him to ‘entertain guests’? That he…” Robert smacked the side of one fist into the wall.
“Yes.” Samet set the book down.
“There will be people there who…” Robert made a growling sound. “And not just your father. People who saw what he was doing and helped and laughed and…”
“I know.” Samet looked down, his arms folded.
“Tell him he can’t go.”
“No.” Samet’s voice was soft.
“Listen, you fucking little bastard, I’m not going to let…” Robert took several steps toward Samet.
Samet’s head came up, his eyes glowing, and Robert stopped short. “This is Ethan’s choice. This is something Ethan needs to do. A door he must open and walk through on his own.” His eyes narrowed. “And anyone that tries to do him harm will die in fire. I do not care what colors they wear.”
Robert stared at him. Then he sighed, and shook his head. “I want him safe.”
“I would burn the world to keep him that way.” Samet let his arms fall to his side, and the glow left his eyes. “We love him, Robert. It is only natural to want to protect him.”
“I know. I apologize, Samet.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Any, uh, news about Sarah and Vincent?”
“Enesuriel is…” Samet frowned. “This nature of the communication makes understanding difficult, but apparently Enesuriel is currently quite frustrated with Sarah’s refusal to simply follow some sort of map or course? I attempted to convince Enesuriel to simply tell me where they are and let me go get them, but she claimed she could get them back on track.” He sighed. “If I command Enesuriel by her true name she is obligated by her nature to interpret any instruction I give her in the most detrimental and mischievous fashion she can, thus for the sake of Vincent and Sarah…”
“What, exactly, is Enesuriel?” Robert blinked when Samet didn’t answer right away. “Samet?”
“I am attempting to figure out a way to phrase this that isn’t going to end in you punching me.” Samet shook his head.
“Samet.” He frowned. “Ethan said she was some sort of pixie?”
“She is but…” He hung his head a moment before looking back up at Robert. “She is one of the Danaan.”
“You…” Robert narrowed his eyes. “Are acquainted with one of the Danaan?”
“Well, my faery godmother is a hag thus I am not entirely certain why anyone would —”
“Samet.” He folded his arms. “You left my daughter in the hands of…”
“In all fairness, Robert…” Samet shook his head. “I left Sir Vincent in the hands of —”
“A Danaan who had agreed to see to the protection of him and your daughter.” Samet met his eyes. “May the gods have mercy on anyone who does seek to harm either of them.”
He’d prepared himself for Vadin to simply order an attack. He’d prepared himself for Vadin’s storm and thunder. Robert thought he had prepared himself for just about anything. He hadn’t prepared himself for Vadin shoving his own guard out of the way in his haste to get to his son, nor for there to be tears in the man’s voice as he pulled Samet into an embrace and held him tightly. To see Vadin as a human, a father reunited with a son he’d nearly lost. He sure as hell hadn’t been prepared for the brief moment of empathy with a man who’d tortured his brother and threatened his children.
Vadin stepped back from Samet, then gave a small frown before brushing something off Samet’s shoulder. Samet rolled his eyes and gave his father an irritated look, which caused Vadin to smile. “You look…” Vadin trailed off, then caught hold of Samet’s wrist. His eyes traveled over the scarred hand before traveling back to Samet’s face. “This was my fault.”
“It was.” Samet nodded.
He released Samet’s wrist, then put his hand on the back of Samet’s neck before gently touching pressing his forehead against Samet’s. “I am so sorry, my son. I should have trusted you.” He released Samet. “Forgive me.”
“That…” Samet slowly nodded. “Is why I am here.”
“Without the archway, there is no way to be certain these…” Vadin shot a contemptuous look at Robert. “Will remain in line.”
“This war is a waste, Father.” Samet shook his head. “Of lives and resources and…” He leaned forward. “It isn’t necessary.”
“The Covenant would have had you killed at birth.” Vadin gestured at his hand. “You know full well what they would do to you if they had the chance, and it is mere luck that they —”
“It wasn’t luck, Father.” Samet sighed. “It was my friends.”
“A few who recognize the benefits of having you as an ally.” Vadin nodded. “With the archway, their continued loyalty will —”
“Loyalty is not something you can force.”
Vadin flicked his gaze to where Ethan stood at Samet’s shoulder before smirking and looking back to Samet. “I beg to differ.” He took a deep breath. “Samet, everything I have done has been to ensure you remain safe, secure in your power. With my army behind you…”
Samet sighed. Robert folded his arms. “Have you considered that your son is a good man and perhaps doesn’t want to rule the world as a tyrant?”
A small snort of amusement came from Vadin. “He is a good man, but you fools condemn him for the very power that he could use to ensure order in this world. You stand with him now Robert.” Vadin lifted his head. “Because you’ve seen who he is and what he can do. You tell me who better to bring this world into a new age?”
“A new age will not be born by force, Vadin.” Robert shook his head.
“Talidir should offer itself to Atrios. It could be a strong alliance, Robert. I will not deny the skill of your generals.” He shrugged. “This is a dynasty I intend, after all, and your eldest daughter is certainly a beautiful young woman. I am sure Samet would be agreeable to —”
“I am well aware Princess Sarah is not in your custody, Father.” Samet’s eyes narrowed. “She is under my protection, as are the rest of Robert’s children.” He straightened. “And that is non-negotiable.”
Vadin laughed. “Well, you can’t blame me for trying. Honestly, since you seem to have some affection for the girls why not simply pick one and we can move on to other matters? It’s amazing how many diplomatic entanglements can be solved by the production of suitable heirs. Robert, you’re a father.” Vadin looked up at him. “Perhaps you could reason with him on the matter. A joining of our lines would bring about a new order, one that…”
“Are you actually sitting there telling me that this entire war of conquest has been about getting you grandchildren?” Robert stared.
“Of course not.” Vadin shook his head. “I have simply not given up hope that grandchildren will be one of the side benefits.”
“Oh for the love of…” Samet took a deep breath. “I am not here to have this particular discussion again. I am here to discuss the sealing of the final archway.”
“I am afraid that my stance there is final. Without the archway, there is simply no way to ensure the remains of the Covenant will not turn on you.”
“Not being an asshole has done the trick so far,” Ethan muttered.
“I did not give you permission to speak.” Vadin glared at him. “Do not tempt me to —”
The varnish on the table beneath Samet’s hands suddenly bubbled and smoked. “Enough.” He moved his hands from the table, leaving behind blackened and distorted marks.
“Once the dragoncrown is fully…” Vadin shook his head.
“Father.” Samet stood. “I would prefer not to wage war on my own people, yet I intend to seal the third archway. With, or without your assistance.”
Vadin’s eyes went to the scared hand before flicking back to Samet’s face. “They bound you.”
He stood, his face furious. “They bound you.”
Robert hadn’t realized that he’d actually begun to hope that Samet could get through to Vadin. He felt sick, for the young man’s sake as much as for the sake of the world. Vadin stared at Robert, his eyes hot and angry as Samet started to walk away. “I don’t know how you’ve bound him, but rest assured I will —”
“You are a fool, Vadin.” Robert shook his head.
“You think to turn my own son against me? I will raze your lands, feed your whelps to my hounds. Give that pretty wife of yours to Garachus to undo the bind —”
“How do you know that name?” Samet froze in his tracks, his voice soft.
“What?” Vadin blinked.
Slowly, Samet turned. His voice was calm, his face without expression. “How do you know that name?”