Struggling against the ropes that bound him just made the situation worse. He could keep his eyes away from what Maela and Rien were doing, but his ears didn’t have the same luxury. And both of them were being rather audible with their pleasure. Fortunately, Rien apparently decided the sofa wasn’t suitable and swept Maela up before carrying her into the bed chamber.
Leaving him rather elaborately tied up in the sitting room. Bastien turned a little toward Rachel. “Would you mind untying me?”
“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.” Rachel shook his head.
“He was merely distracted.” Bastien moved his head in the direction of the bedchamber. “It likely just slipped his mind.”
“He seemed pleased by you in the ropes.” Rachel shifted uncertainly. She gave him a shy smile. “You are very strong. I tried to show that.” She shifted a little. “Was he pleased?”
“I’m certain he was.” After all, Bastien was uncomfortable and embarrassed. No doubt Rien was thrilled. “Now please untie me.”
“But Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.” She shook her head, and glanced in the direction of the bedchamber again. She looked apprehensive. “Lord Jochem said Master Marinus was a kind man and a good master. Is that true?”
“I can see why Jochem would think so.” Bastien fought the urge to thrash against the ropes. “But as he had you tie me up and leave me here, my personal opinion may be slightly biased at the moment.” He exhaled.
“How long have you served Master Marinus?”
“I uh…” He tried to shrug, and the knots rubbed into him again. The sensation was annoyingly pleasurable. “About three weeks.”
“And how long have you been a slave?” She tilted her head.
“About three weeks.” When she stared at him, he gave a small shake of his head. “He took me in a raid about four weeks ago.”
“He trained you in a week?” Her mouth dropped open in shock.
“No, it’s…” He sighed. “Complicated. Untie me, and I’ll happily tell you all about it.”
“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.” She shook her head at him again. “You are very pretty in the ropes. Do you not enjoy them?”
“No, I don’t enjoy them.” He gave a frustrated growl.
Rachel gave him a wounded look, and her eyes actually teared up. “I’m sorry. I put them around your shaft so you would. Did I do it wrong?”
“I would greatly, greatly appreciate it if you would remove them from that location.” He could feel himself turning red again. “It’s very…” He took a few deep breaths.
“I could relieve…” She trailed off. “Master Marinus said we aren’t to touch you.”
“No, I don’t you to —” He gave a frantic shake of his head. “Please just untie me.”
“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.”
“Then would you…” He closed his eyes for a few moments before opening them again. “Would you adjust the ropes so they aren’t…” He glanced down. “There?”
“Master Marinus seemed pleased they were there.” Rachel looked down, and then smiled at him. “You seem pleased they are there too.”
“Oh for the love of…” He stared at her. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Master Marinus said not to touch.” She trailed her eyes over him. “Master Marinus didn’t say I couldn’t look.”
“I hope that dragon swallows him whole.” Bastien glared. “Would you…” He looked down at the fur. “Would you at least help me lay down so I don’t dislocate my shoulder trying to get some rest?” She complied, then laid down in front of him, only a couple inches away. The garment she was wearing proved that it was designed only to conceal when she was upright. He immediately tilted his head back to avert his eyes. She giggled. “Yeah…” He took another deep breath. “I think I figured out why Jochem thought Rien would like you.”
Rien woke the next morning, then rolled over to brush Maela’s hair back from her face. She gave him smile, and he bent his head to kiss her. “Sweetling, do you prefer sapphires or emeralds?”
Her fingers caressed his arm as she pressed her body against his. “I prefer whichever gets your attention, Master Marinus.”
“Sapphires, I think. Blue suits you.” He ran his fingers through her hair. “And I prefer Rien to Marinus.” He kissed her again before reluctantly rising from the bed. He let Maela help him dress, then located a sapphire bracelet among his jewels and locked it around her wrist.
Upon coming out of the hallway into the sitting room, he stopped short. Bast was laying on the bearskin rug, with Rachel laying only a few inches from him. Rachel appeared to be asleep. Bast was still rather thoroughly tied up and started glaring the moment he saw Rien. “You know…” Rien laughed softly. “I had this feeling I was forgetting something.”
“Really?” Bast narrowed his eyes. Next to him, Rachel stirred and woke. Immediately, she shifted to kneel, head bowed.
“Maela is very…” He turned to watch the woman walk through the room. “Distracting.” He shrugged. “Why didn’t you ask Rachel to untie you?”
“I did.” Bast shook his head. “Repeatedly.”
“And she’s evil.”
“Ah…” Rien nodded. “Well then. Good girl.” He gave Rachel an approving nod before turning back to Bast. “You know, I was going to put her in emeralds, but if that’s the case maybe I’ll go with rubies instead.” He shrugged, then ran his fingers through Rachel’s hair. “Help your sister with breakfast, lovely one.” She smiled before rising to obey. He tilted his head to watch her leave the room.
It took him a few moments to realize Bast was saying his name, and he looked down to see the man was still bound tightly, with his ankles connected to his wrists. “Oh. Right.” He started looking for the end of the rope before shaking his head. “Rachel?”
“No, like this.” Bastien adjusted the sword, then indicated a wider stance. “You need to brace, or you won’t be able to deflect your opponent’s swing enough to get them off balance for the riposte.”
Maela shifted. “Is this better?”
“Yes.” He stepped back. “Again.” Rien’s position as an actual prince had kept the man busy for much of the last few days. It was considered inappropriate for a slave to be present during various ceremonial matters, thus Bastien had been left behind. Without Rien present, there was very little for them to do. Bastien had tried Rien’s library, only to discover most of the books were in a script with which he was unfamiliar. Maela had offered to teach him, and almost jokingly he’d offered to teach her sword play in return.
To his surprise, she’d taken him up on the offer. She moved more like a dancer than a fighter, but she was clearly enjoying herself. It was hard not to stare as she went through the sword form, despite the fact he was growing somewhat accustomed to two barely clothed women wandering about. The fact that Rien had decided part of Maela’s morning routine was selecting Bastien’s own clothing and dressing him was also serving to inure him to certain matters. She took an unholy delight in displaying Bastien’s body for Rien’s pleasure, and had actually pouted when Rien had sided with him on the ‘no jewels’ part. She’d immediately deployed her own wiles to get her way, and he’d found himself sitting for her to apply a sort of paint that stained his skin for days at a time. Intricately patterned sea-serpents trailed up his arms and across his chest and back.
Rien had approved heartily upon seeing the finished work. He’d given Maela a sapphire pendant before chaining Bastien to the bed for the night. For the past week he’d alternated between Bastien and Maela, stating he was saving Rachel as a reward for after he’d slain the dragon. Rachel had declined the sword lessons, and was working on composing a new melody for her lyre.
“I can teach you, if you’d like.” Maela lowered the sword after finishing the form.
“You are teaching me.” The language of the texts was one he had a passing familiarity with as a spoken language, but he’d never seen it written before.
“I don’t mean the books.” She shook her head. “If you’re concerned you lack the skill to service Master Rien, I could teach you.”
It took him a moment to realize what she was saying, and he immediately started shaking his head. “No, no, that’s…” He took a deep breath. “No.”
“Inexperience is nothing to be ashamed of.” She smiled. “Master Rien told me you were a virgin when he claimed you.”
“Of course he did.” Bastien rubbed his forehead.
“I could demonstrate without having to disobey Master Rien’s edict about touching you.”
“That’s not…” He sighed. “Can we not talk about this?”
“Oh, sister…” Rachel’s voice came from behind him, low and amused. “Look you made him turn red all over.”
“I know.” Maela laughed. “I wish I was allowed to pinch his cheeks.” She gave him a lingering look. “Both sets.”
“You’re both evil.” He shook his head at them. “You know that, right?”
“Brother, if I didn’t know better…” Rien narrowed his eyes. “I’d think you were threatening me.” He folded his arms. “I’m starting to wonder if Rutger is right.”
“Marinus…” Lammert glared. “Killing one of my brothers is the last thing I would do.” He shook his head. “I’m trying to keep you alive, you blasted fool.”
“With Jurgen out of the way, you’re next in line for the throne.” Rutger shifted to stand at Rien’s shoulder. “You’re only against this because you know when Rien succeeds, he’ll be the designated heir. And not you.”
“Oh I’m sure Jochem would do an excellent job of running the country while Marinus paraded himself about.” Lammert rolled his eyes. “Right up until Marinus pushed the limits of our neighbors too far and brought them all down upon us at once.”
“You know, brother, I’m curious…” Rien tilted his head. “How did Phillip manage to gather himself that many trolls without bringing any of the clans down upon him?”
“Perhaps you should have asked him while you were in his employ.” Lammert shook his head. “You see a tomb to raid and a dragon to slay, and look no further. You don’t consider the consequences. Just like you didn’t consider them when raiding Duke Harald’s castle. You realize if it weren’t for your pet, you’re little alliance with Phillip would have turned Solsthriem against us? The River Dragon himself attacking the king’s cousin?” He exhaled. “Give the man back, Marinus. A gesture of goodwill to —”
“You want to placate the soft folk?” Rutger spat. “Next you’d have us kneeling to them. When exactly, brother, did you turn craven?”
“Childish taunts?” Lammert gave a small shake of his head. “Is that really your best argument?”
“I’m done listening to you, Lammert.” Rien folded his arms. “Dismiss prophecy all you want, but the dream spoke truth even if you close your ears to it. I found the keystone, and a dragon awaits.” He turned, and stalked away.
Rutger followed after him. “A chance for glory and he’d throw it away. Our people once strode from sea to sea unchecked, and he’d…” He chuckled. “Though he does have a point.”
“What’s that?” Rien raised an eyebrow.
“If you gave your pet back, Solsthriem would let it’s guard down again. You could lead the clans in, and they’d never see it coming.”
“I’m not giving Bast back.” If for no other reason than he currently had no one else he could trust to teach him the sword. Lammert would seize on any weakness, even a correctable one, as an excuse to convince their mother to turn away from the plan. “I still need him.” He sighed. “Warlord Petrus is expecting me. I’ll see you later, brother.”
“Give the warlord my regards.”
Bastien turned at the sound of the door unlocking, expecting to see Rien. His eyes widened slightly when Lammert entered, and he instinctively moved into a defensive position. Lammert glanced at where Maela and Rachel had immediately knelt. “You two, leave us.” He pointed at Bastien. “You. A word.”
He waited until Maela and Rachel had scampered into the safety of the bedchamber, then took up a position between Lammert and the hallway before nodded. “Prince Lammert.”
“Are you enjoying being part of my brother’s harem, or do you wish to return to Solsthriem?” Lammert folded his arms.
“I fail to see what concern that is of yours.” Bastien narrowed his eyes.
“It concerns me because your king is demanding your return.” Lammert gave a small shake of his head. “Your father has been named steward for Duchess Nadja, and to ensure he has enough authority to carry out that duty your king has elevated him to a baron. You are nobility now, Sir Bastien. Do you want to go home?”
There was no way to know if Lammert spoke truth, but the claim was not far-fetched. He couldn’t help but feel some pride that his father’s courage had been recognized. “I…” He took a deep breath. “Of course I want to go home.”
“Then gather what belongings you have, and come with me.” Lammert waved a hand. “My agent will escort you safely to your father.”
“I…” Bastien felt a lump rise in his throat. “I must decline your offer.”
Lammert exhaled, then frowned. His gaze went to the hallway behind Bastien. “Is it the women who concern you?” He raised an eyebrow. “My brother will not punish them for your ‘escape’, you need not worry on that account.”
“That’s not…” He shook his head.
“Has one caught your eye then?” Lammert rolled his eyes. “Then convince her to accompany you and I’ll pay the gild to my brother, but be quick about it.”
“I must decline your offer.” It felt as if the words were being ripped out of him. He squared his shoulders. “I gave Rien my oath of fealty.”
“An oath demanded under duress is not binding before the gods.” Lammert shook his head.
“The oath was offered by me, not demanded by him.” Bastien clenched his fists. He had no clue why Lammert was offering to help him escape. Possibly it was just to frustrate Rien, but more likely the man had ulterior motives. Whatever the reason was, however, it was ultimately irrelevant. It was the oath that kept him there, not the collar. “So I must decline your offer.”
“Sir Bastien…” Lammert straightened. “No one need ever know what —”
“I will know.” He met Lammert’s eyes.
The other man just stared at him for several seconds. “So may it be.” He gave another small shake of his head. “If I understand an oath of fealty, it requires you to defend him against all threats, no matter their nature.”
“It does.” He shifted his stance just a little to one more defensive. “Even if the threat is his own brother.”
“Then we will see what that morrow brings.” Lammert turned and exited the room.
Slowly, Bastien exhaled. Then he locked the door behind the man.