Liam ducked to avoid hitting his head on the entrance to their quarters. Even inside, standing upright his hair just brushed the ceiling. He started to turn toward Adaeze only for her to shove him forward lightly. He smiled, but obeyed the direction. Her hand on his shoulder guided him to his knees, and he bowed his head, awaiting her next command. “Put your hands behind your back.”
As soon as he obeyed, she secured his wrists with a simple leather strap, buckling it into place. She fixed a second strap just below his elbows, then a third just above. Adaeze had been nervous about binding him while they were at sea, but he’d reminded her that he’d know if there was any danger. Her hand traced up his back, then she wrapped it around his throat and pulled him back against her. “Whatever am I to do with you?” She smiled down at him.
“Anything you’d like.” He returned her smile. “I am yours.”
“You are.” She released his throat, then walked over in front of him. A fourth belt went around his neck to form a collar. As soon as she fastened it, she grabbed hold of it and used it to pull him toward the cot. She sat on the edge, spreading her legs as she pulled him toward her. Liam bent his head to kiss her inner thigh, then smiled a little as she took hold of his head. He began using his tongue and lips on her flesh, letting her move him where she wanted him. She let out a gasp when he nibbled lightly, then she pushed his head a little lower so his tongue could taste inside her.
Soon, she was moaning, rocking against him as she held his head in place. One of her legs was draped over his shoulder, helping keep him where she wanted him. He smiled again when he felt her shudder, but didn’t stop until she’d released him. Adaeze wiped his face tenderly before kissing him, then caught hold of the collar again. She stood, pulling him up, then pushed him down onto the bed before pouncing atop him. “You may not cum, husband…” She whispered into his ear. “Until I tell you to.”
His eyes widened just a little at her evil smile. “Adaeze…”
“Shh.” She kissed him again, then reached a hand down to fondle him.
Jurgen woke with a weight on his shoulder. He blinked away the remnants of the previous evening’s drinking, and made a mental note to ask Liam to bring him more of that next time he visited. He looked down at his shoulder, expecting to see Efua, and his eyes widened a little when he saw blond hair instead. Slowly, his gaze traveled to his other side. Efua was curled against him, her head tucked beneath his arm. He looked again at the blond head of Prince Wendel.
The man next to him stirred. He blinked up at Jurgen sleepily, and then his eyes went wide. “Oh gods.”
“Hey…” He wrapped his arm around Wendel to prevent the man from fleeing. “It’s alright.”
“It’s…” Wendel exhaled, then shook his head. “Really not.” He sat up, and Jurgen let him. On the other side, Efua stirred. “This uh…”
“Wendel, in more ways than one, your involvement in this is entirely between the two of us.” Jurgen gestured at Efua, who snickered.
Wendel let out a laugh. “Gods, you cannot be serious.”
“I can.” Jurgen nodded before sitting up himself. “On the occasions I have need to be.” He patted Wendel’s arm. “But this isn’t serious. This is just some fun between friends.”
“We’re friends?” Wendel raised an eyebrow.
“Politics and the whole our countries don’t like each other parts aside…” Jurgen shrugged. “Yeah. We are.” He nodded. “And yeah, kinda surprised me too.”
“Relax, please, Wendel.” Efua held a hand out to Wendel. “There are hours yet until dawn.”
When Wendel didn’t take her hand right away, Jurgen nudged him. “Hey. What kind of gentleman are you? The lady said please.”
“That she did.” Wendel turned. He took Efua’s hand, and pulled her closer before kissing her. Jurgen smiled, then moved closer. He kissed the back of the prince’s neck before sliding one arm around his waist, then caught Efua’s hand in his other one. Efua needed little prompting to pull Wendel down next to her, and together they quickly got the other man squirming and moaning again.
Diantha was going to be very annoyed she’d missed this.
She woke languidly, then looked beside her. Liam was curled next to her, lying on his side, with his arms still secured behind his back. She’d gagged him before going to sleep next to him, knowing she’d wake if he did need her. He’d slept peacefully though. Adaeze smiled. It had taken a few hours before she’d finally given into his pleas for mercy. Then she smiled again. Neither of them were needed on duty yet. She reached a hand down to start tormenting him again, and his eyes snapped open.
For a long moment he stared at her, his eyes wide. Then he looked down at her belly before looking back up at her. He’d done it a second time, his expression full of wonder and awe before realization struck her. Adaeze yanked the gag out from between his teeth. “Liam?”
“Adaeze…” His voice was breathless, but he answered her unspoke question. “Yes.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. When he started to open his mouth again, she put a hand over it. “Shhh…” She leaned in, kissing him gently. “Don’t look ahead. Take this journey with me, husband. Let’s find this path together.”
“Yes.” He touched his forehead to hers. Then he laughed a little. “Waiting to know is going to be difficult.”
“Mind me, husband.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at him.
“As you command.” He nodded. He shifted a little. “Are you going to untie me?”
Adaeze ran a hand down his side as she considered the question. Then she shook her head. “Not yet. I have some celebrating to do, and…” She kissed him. “You’re just going to have to take it.” She brushed her fingers lightly over his ribs, making him squirm.
“Please.” He looked up at her entreatingly.
“I like it when you beg.” She began fondling him. “Do it more.”
“No, you see, you out rank him. You can give the gift away under the guise of forging new alliances, but if he does it, he’s being presumptuous and insulting your generosity.”
“But that leaves him no opportunity to win.” Jurgen frowned at Wendel, then it shifted into a smile. “Which is the point.” He nodded. “Devious. I like it.”
“Best is to give him something not only entirely useless and inconvenient, but something actively a drain on his coffers.” Wendel nodded. “If you were in Solsthriem, I would suggest offering him a plot of land upon which to build a church. He then has to finance all the construction, which won’t be completed in his lifetime. By the time it’s built, it’s two generations down and his descendants are remembering your generosity as the church becomes beneficial.”
“Look at them, playing nicely together.” Efua grinned at Liam. “Remind me why I cannot keep them?”
“Keep them?” Liam blinked at her. “Like pets?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “Exactly like pets.”
“You can’t keep people like —”
“Am asking the wrong person.” Efua shook her head. “Adaeze. Can I keep them?”
“I’m not sure you’re ready for the responsibility of a pet. Especially a pet prince.” Adaeze shook her head.
“I am older than you are, and you have one.” Efua gave Liam a pointed look.
“I…” Liam started shaking his head, then shrugged and glanced at Adaeze. “She does actually have a point there.”
Jurgen snickered, then glanced at Efua. “I’d make a poor pet.”
“I’m surprised your wife has not done a better job of housebreaking you.” Efua chuckled.
“My wife likes it when I break houses.” Jurgen shrugged. “I have to rein myself in far too much on a ship just to avoid sinking the blasted thing.”
“That was you…” Efua’s eyes widened. “Reined in?”
“According to Diantha they have to get new furniture about three times a year.” Liam took a drink from his mug.
“You know, I was going to bring up the possibility of an alliance with your people…” Wendel glanced at Jurgen. “But I’m just not sure the world is ready.”
“Stop it.” Liam didn’t even have to turn around. With his hair tied back at the base of his neck, Jurgen looked passable in the Solsthriem garb. Or he would, if he quit tugging at the collar.
“It’s trying to kill me.”
“It’s not trying to kill you.” Wendel rolled his eyes.
“Why do you people torture yourselves like this?” Jurgen shuddered. “We’ve already established that your flesh won’t spontaneously catch fire if some small portion of it is exposed to light.”
“Unlike certain barbarians, we have a sense of modesty and decorum.” Wendel smirked.
“They get cold easily.” Liam shrugged. “And some parts of Thatela influence their culture. Cloth is expensive, so how better to show just how wealthy you are than to wear entirely too much of it?”
“That’s not…” Wendel blinked. “Huh. You know, I never thought about it before but that does make…” He shook his head. “But the Ilael as a culture are richer than Solthriem and Thatela, and trade in cloth. Why do they go about half naked?”
“One, you’ve never actually seen Ilael ceremonial or celebratory garb…” Liam glanced over his shoulder. “And two, try swimming in what you are wearing now.” He exhaled. “Jurgen, stop yanking on your sleeves.”
“They are trying to kill me.”
“They are not trying to kill you.”
“But they are enjoying watching you suffer.” Wendel smiled.
“Why aren’t you pulling at your sleeves?” Jurgen glared at Liam. “You can’t actually like this get-up.”
“Well, as a wise ass man once said…” Liam smirked. “When in deep water, learn to swim.”
Everyone knew Wilders could fight. They were renowned for it, feared in battle to the point that several countries had treaties forbidding hiring them as mercenaries. Even having seen Jurgen helping with the fighting earlier hadn’t prepared him for seeing the crown prince of the Wilders go to war. “Gods preserve us…” Wendel looked around at the corpses. “No wonder they call you the Stone Dragon.”
Jurgen laid the axe across his shoulder and smiled. “Liam did tell you he’d brought an army.”
“I thought he was exaggerating.” Wendel shook his head. Then he smiled. “Gods above. We’re actually…” He took a deep breath. “Gods.”
“What’s wrong with him?” Jurgen glanced at Liam.
“Nothing is wrong.’ Wendel ran a hand through his hair. “I just…” He started for the stairs as the sounds of fighting could be heard in the courtyard. “I never actually thought we’d get this far. I…” He stopped. “Fuck.” He banged his head on the wall.
“Uh…” Jurgen glanced at Liam again.
“He just realized he’s going to have to actually be king.” Liam shrugged.
“Yeah, I…” Wendel slowly turned around. “Why?”
“Why?” Liam raised an eyebrow.
“Why help me do this? I mean…” Wendel stared at Liam. “You’re like a gift from the gods themselves, showing up right when I need you and getting me exactly the help I need to accomplish…” He looked down, then back up at Liam. “You helped me stop two wars, and avoid a third. You just helped me take the throne and…” He took a deep breath. “And you’ve asked nothing in return.”
“That’s not true.” Jurgen frowned. “He asked for the mines.”
“And I asked him not to kill you.” Liam nodded to Jurgen, who just snorted in response.
“Trifles compared to —” He started to turn as a crossbow bolt broke the glass of the window near him. It would have taken him in the throat, except Liam’s spear knocked it out of the air. Jurgen was moving a heartbeat later, pulling Wendel clear of the window before anyone else could take a shot.
Jurgen stared up at his brother. He knew what he’d seen, but he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it. He’s seen the crossbow man, but Liam’s angle had been wrong. And yet, Liam had started moving before the bolt had been fired. Liam had moved… Liam had started protesting the moment Efua had walked over. And right now, Liam was looking at him with a resigned expression. He’d laid the Scepter of Asrael at the Dragon Queen’s feet. “You saw it coming.”
“Yes.” Liam nodded.
“Asrael’s scep —” He caught himself a heartbeat too late, and cursed when he saw Wendel’s eyes widen.
“Gods preserve us.” Wendel put a hand to his mouth. “Gods…” He shook his head, his expression disbelieving. “You were sent by the gods. You showed up because you knew…”
A chill went down his spine. Dammit, he’d liked Wendel, and he really didn’t like the notion that they’d wasted their time pulling off a perfectly good coup. “Wendel…”
“Gods, Liam, if anyone finds out…” Wendel stared. “Do you know how much danger…” He shook his head again. “No, of course you know how much danger. Gods, Liam, who else knows?”
“A few of my crew. My wife. My parents.” Liam shrugged. “Efua.”
“You can…” Wendel froze. All the color drained out of his face. His voice shook just a little when he spoke again. “Enu.”
Liam closed his eyes. “Yes.”
“Gods.” Wendel’s face looked grief-stricken. “Enu…” He leaned against the wall as though his legs could no longer hold him up. “Liam he was your brother.”
“I know.” Liam’s voice was furious. “Why the fuck do you think I’ve spend so much time making sure your ass sits on that fucking throne?” He drew himself to his full height. “You’re going to be king. You’re going to stabilize your fucking country and slap the war-mongers down before more innocent lives are lost.” He took a step toward Wendel, catching the other man by the front of the tunic and yanking him into standing position. “You will spend the rest of your fucking life ensuring he did not die for nothing.”
Wendel got his feet back under him, and squared his shoulders. “I swear it.”
“Good.” Liam released him. “Now move. It’s almost done.”
His little brother named his animals after flowers, and spoke gently and softly. He hadn’t thought of Liam as weak since his return, but watching him now… Jurgen smiled. The Phoenix had a bit of dragon in him after all.
“You’re a kingmaker.”
Liam turned at the sound of Jurgen’s voice, then shook his head. “That is not how history will record this.”
“No.” Jurgen leaned on the railing. “History will never know you and I were here at all, but that doesn’t change anything.” He smiled a little as he looked over at Liam. “Solsthriem and Thatela would both have hired Wilder mercenaries. War between those nations could have meant civil war for our people as well, as clans sought vengeance against clans for the deaths of the field.” He looked out over the railing again. “I imagine that wasn’t lost on you.”
“It was…” He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I saw it clear. I could save Enu, but I would lose Wendel in doing so. There was no other that could…” He swallowed again, then felt Jurgen’s arm go over his shoulders. “He tried to fight the Unitafels when they dragged me to the campfire. They broke his arm for trying.” He took a ragged breath.
“He was your brother.” Jurgen nodded.
“He was.” He laughed, just a little. “He chased every girl away from me but Adaeze. His little sister.” He wiped at his eyes.
“I think I would have liked him.”
“You would.” Liam nodded. He took another deep breath. “I know what you intend, when you return.” He turned, leaning his back against the railing and folding his arms. “Don’t.”
“They hurt you.” Jurgen narrowed his eyes. “I’ve seen the scars.”
“I know.” Liam sighed. “Brother, that vengeance won’t lead any place good.”
“They…” Jurgen straightened. “Hurt you.”
“Yes.” Liam met his eyes. “I know. I was there. Storm’s mercy, Jurgen, I’m the one that still wakes from those nightmares. It was three years before the woman I love could kiss me without sending me scrambling away in terror. I know.” He shook his head. “Don’t go after them, Jurgen. It would cost too much.”
“I don’t care what it —”
“It’s not worth —”
“You are.” Jurgen caught hold of his arm. “You’re my brother, Liam. You’re my brother and I love you and you are worth it.”
Visions danced in his mind, possibilities twisting around each other. “Jurgen, please.” Liam put a hand on Jurgen’s shoulder. “I’ve seen the ways it could end, and while I appreciate your intentions…” He touched his forehead to Jurgen’s. “Please trust me. It’s not worth it.”
“I…” Jurgen closed his eyes. “Liam.” He sighed, then stepped back. “I’ll consider what you’ve said.”
He would just have to hope that would be enough. “Thank you.”
“When will I see you again, brother?”
“When you need me, Jurgen…” He smiled. “I will be there.”