She entered the bedchamber to find it empty. Ileana frowned a moment before a sound in the garden drew her attention. A smile came to her face as she looked out the window. Keffer and Thomas were both stripped to loinclothes, sparring with quarterstaves. Keffer was fey, stronger and faster than a mortal man, and he had a greater reach than Thomas.
And yet it was Keffer who was losing the match. Thomas caught the satyr’s ankle with the staff, taking Keffer off his feet. The butt end of Thomas’s staff stopped a couple inches above the satyr’s throat. A killing blow, had Thomas intended it as such. Her husband tossed the staff aside before offering her lover a hand back to his feet.
“Ileana.” Keffer caught sight of her watching them. “My apologies, I took the liberty of untying your pet when I realized he was awake.” Thomas glared at him. “I also fed him, watered him, and took him for a walk.”
“Then I beat him with a stick.” Thomas rolled his eyes.
“Thrice.” Keffer nodded, smiling. “I thought I’d save bathing him for when you returned.”
“Hmmm…” She extended a hand, running it down Thomas’s chest. His body had just a trace of sweat, and there were a few bruises starting to form from the duel to add to the ones she’d left on him the previous evening. Ileana gestured for them to follow her to the bath chamber.
Inside the steaming room, she directed Thomas to sit in one of the shallow pools. Then she stripped off her robe before selecting a soap. He smiled when she joined him in the pool, a smile that only widened when she sat down atop him, straddling his lap. His arms went around her, caressing her as she began to wash him. “You taste of woodsmoke.” His voice was soft.
Ileana hesitated, then nodded. “In two week’s time we will travel to my father’s castle.”
Thomas was silent for a moment before meeting her eyes. “Where Nicolas dwells.”
“I hope that Nicolas will see reason, and speak with me.” She ran a hand down his chest. “Since you are…” She shrugged.
“You intend to use me as a hostage.” Thomas raised an eyebrow at her.
“If it stops Nicolas from engaging in hostilities, yes.” She brushed his hair back. “If he resists my reclamation of the castle, I will be forced to imprison him.”
“Let me speak with him.” Thomas leaned back a little.
“I intend to. But first, we must actually get inside the castle itself. Otherwise Nicolas could hold it against us.” She smiled at him. “I’ve arranged a place of safety for his family. Whatever does happen, they will not come to harm.”
“Thank you.” He returned her smile. “Nicolas is a good man, and a wise man. He will listen.”
“I…” Strange, how much had changed in just the past few days. “I remember him fondly.” She settled back a little in his lap. “He visited our library, a few months before you and I were wed.”
“He brought you the silk.” Thomas nodded.
“It…” Her eyes widened. “Then it really was from you?”
“Of course it was.” Thomas blinked. “Who did you…” He tilted his head at her.
“I…” She leaned in to kiss him again. “After everything, I told myself you probably had some servant handle the letters. But they were you. It was always you.”
“There was never another, Ileana.” His voice was soft. “Even after…” He bowed his head.
“Who could compare to the daughter of the wind?” He ran his fingers through her hair.
Her own fingers tangled in his hair as she pulled him to her for another kiss.
“I feel as though I owe you an apology.”
Thomas blinked, and turned to see Keffer watching him. “Keffer?”
The satyr shrugged. “I’ve been sleeping with the wife you remained faithful to for three years after you believed her dead.” Keffer tilted his head. “Which, considering you two only actually got to spend one night together…” He shrugged again. “Human, you very much have my sympathy.”
“Have I mentioned I hate you?” Thomas glared at him. He looked away, shaking his head.
Unfortunately, Keffer must have caught the stray thought. “Oh it wasn’t one night, was it?” Keffer started to grin. “I take it there were some youthful shenanigans? A bit of sneaking before the big day?”
“Just so we are clear…” Thomas folded his arms. “We established earlier that my oaths to her do not in any way prevent me from hitting you with a stick.”
“You are surprisingly good at the hitting with a stick thing.” Keffer rolled his shoulder. “Even without bringing my nature into play I do not lose often.”
“I’ve trained my entire life.”
Keffer starting laughing. “That may be true human…” He shrugged. “But how old do you suppose I am?”
“I thought I heard Ileana say something about you knowing her father, so —”
“I am much older than that, dear Thomas. I have witnessed both the birth and the death of constellations.” Keffer clasped his hands behind his back. “I walked these woods before your kind lit their first fires.” He smiled, and inclined his head to Thomas. “So when I say you are one of the most talented warriors I have ever had the pleasure of dueling, I want you to understand the full weight of my words.”
“I…” Thomas swallowed. “Wow.”
“Indeed.” He glanced over his shoulder at where Ileana could be seen talking to a sylph. “Ileana came here a desperate, terrified girl who believed she’d lost everything. Her bloodline has always held power, but Ileana…” Keffer turned back to Thomas. “I’ve trained others. Ileana learned more in her first month here than most of them learned in a lifetime. I cannot help but wonder what the fates have in mind for the coming days.”
“You’re…” Thomas shook his head. “Actually starting to scare me a little.”
“Good.” Keffer smiled. “That means you aren’t a complete idiot.” He gestured. “Come, Thomas. I think there is more you are going to need to learn, if you are to be our Ileana’s champion.”
The sound of Vula giggling drew her attention, and she saw the goblin perched where she could see the practice yard. Ileana followed her gaze to see Keffer and Thomas sparring again. This time, Thomas wasn’t doing quite as well. Instead of his usual near human appearance, Keffer was in his true fey form. Cloven hooves, horns, and hands that ended in wicked claws. Faint motes of magic glowed in Keffer’s hands as he flung spells at Thomas.
Thomas used the sidhe blade to intercept a spell and send it back at Keffer. Keffer jerked to the side, and the small fireball exploded behind him. Vula made a disappointed sound, then looked up at Ileana. “Hoping for cooked meat.”
“We aren’t going to eat either of them, Vula.” She ruffled the goblin’s hair affectionately. Keffer flung another spell and to her shock, this time Thomas caught it in his hand. She blinked when she realized he was wearing some sort of metal on his hand. Thomas, for his part, looked slightly startled that what he’d just done had worked, and stopped the duel to question Keffer. “How long have they been practicing?”
“Hours.” Vula shrugged. “Fun seeing Keffer fight.” The goblin let out a contented sigh. “Sometimes forget how pretty he is.”
She had to admit the goblin had a point. Keffer’s fey form did have an unnatural beauty to it. Thomas was an exceptional specimen of human beauty, and the two engaged in their mock combat was starting to stir her more than a little. “Yeah…” She exhaled. “I’m going to have to tie at least one of them up tonight.”
“Vula will get rope.”
He was only vaguely aware the pleading sounds were coming from him. He’d been secured between the posts, wrists and ankles spread. Ileana’s lash bit into his back again, making him cry out, but that wasn’t what had him pleading. Keffer was kneeling in front of him, and the satyr’s mouth was… He made a sound of protest when the satyr stopped yet again.
Then Ileana was in front of him, her body pressed against his as she kissed him. Restrained as he was, he couldn’t pull her toward him. He settled for leaning forward as far as he could, straining to deepen the kiss. Keffer’s hands touched his back, sending a gasp of pain and pleasure through him. She kept her caresses light, the barest brush of her fingertips against his skin, making him shiver.
As soon as he had started to relax again, Keffer abruptly tightened his grip on Thomas’s shoulders. Ileana’s mouth on his muffled his cry as the satyr entered him. Her caresses intensified, driving him maddeningly once more to the brink before they ceased again.
A moment later, it was the satyr’s mouth on his, tongue lightly teasing. He felt the strap across the back of his thighs, and the slight hint of the satyr’s magic enhancing the sensation. “Please.” He thrashed in the bonds, struggling when they once again stopped without taking him over the edge. “Please.”
“Not yet, husband.” Ileana’s voice whispered in his ears. “Not yet.”
Ileana smiled as she looked at the bed. Sunlight was starting to come in through the window, illuminating the sleeping men. Keffer was curled somewhat protectively around Thomas, and Thomas’s head rested on Keffer’s arm. Her hand touched her belly. If she had interpreted the portent correctly, a king was now growing inside her.
Keffer stirred, and opened his eyes. He gave her a lazy smile before looking down at the sleeping Thomas. Red welts stood out starkly on Thomas’s pale skin, giving him a rather impressive set of stripes. Keffer’s laugh was warm and quiet. “I think we may have broken him.”
Thomas had been virtually incoherent when they’d finally released him from the bonds. She’d expected him to have been weakened by the play, but she’d quickly realized she was mistaken when he’d grabbed her and thrown her onto the bed. And yet despite his own need, he’d been gentle when he’d entered her. They’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms, with Keffer’s arms around them both. Well, she’d fallen asleep. It would be somewhat more accurate to say Thomas had passed out. “Breakfast is on its way.” She shook her head fondly.
“I see.” Keffer gently nudged Thomas. “Thomas.” Thomas shifted just a little, apparently trying to bury himself deeper into the bed. He trailed a finger over Thomas’s arm before leaning forward to nuzzle Thomas’s neck. “Thomas, are you alive?”
“No.” Thomas’s voice came back. “Go away.”
“Get up, Thomas. I should heal you before breakfast.” Ileana chuckled before going to sit on the other side of the bed. Rather than actually rise, Thomas simply crawled over to her and laid his head in her lap before collapsing again.
She performed the healing spell and started to stand, only for Thomas’s arms to wrap around her waist and hold her in place. She smiled, and started to tell him to let her go when he nuzzled her belly. Then he looked up at her. “We created a child, didn’t we?”
“Yes.” She soothed his hair back, then hesitated a moment. “Thomas, I…”
“You should name him for your brother.” He planted a soft kiss on her stomach. “Whatever is to come, Ileana, we should…” He looked up at her again. “Our son should never have to pay the price for our mistakes.”
“Oh that, my husband…” She slowly nodded. “We agree.”