Aurel folded his arms and shook his head. He should have known that message and its offer was too good to be true. When the king arrived, he’d be lucky if he managed to escape with nothing more than being stripped of his new title. Two sons of the Dragon Queen, and he’d not only let one get away he’d obliged himself to protect the other. Though it would have changed nothing if he hadn’t agreed to the deal. There was still Bastien to protect. “He called you his friend.”
“Father?” Bastien raised an eyebrow.
“Marinus. He called you his friend.” Aurel turned to face his son. “Are you his friend?”
“I…” Bastien shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. It’s…” He rubbed the back of his head. “It’s a lot harder to hate him than it should be. He’s not evil, he’s just…” Bastien shook his head. “Kinda stupid. I’m guessing that’s why Lammert didn’t argue with you putting him in a cell. Whatever Lammert is doing, he wanted Rien out of the way while he took care of it, and that…”
“Is a troublesome notion.” Aurel frowned. “He didn’t call himself Lammert in the message he sent. He used the name Liam.” He sighed. “Alright, Marinus said he’ll abide by what terms you set, so I suggest you come up with —”
“My lord?” A servant stepped into the room. The man’s face was red, and he couldn’t quite look at them. “We have a…” He winced. “Situation. With the prisoner.”
“What kind of situation?” Aurel narrowed his eyes.
“Well, the woman brought him a book as instructed, but…” The servant turned even redder.
“But?” Aurel stopped himself from tapping his foot.
“Oh for…” Bastien ran a hand down his face.
The cot was surprisingly sturdy. Rien held Rachel in his lap, nuzzling her breasts as she rode him. She was moaning quite loudly, a bit more loudly than she normally did. Her back arched as she cried out in the throes of passion, and he gave a loud moan of his own.
“Bawdy goatish base-court louts.” The grate that served the cell as a door rang sharply when Bast kicked it.
Rien blinked, then looked up at Rachel, who was grinning. “A moment, Lovely.” He lifted her off him, then went to the door. Behind Bast, Baron Kohler turned bright red. The other four guards on the cell were all facing away. As soon as Rachel walked up beside him Baron Kohler made a choking sound before turning around himself. “Hey.”
“You…” Bast pointed at Rachel. “Were just supposed to bring him a book.”
“I misunderstood.” Rachel gave Bast an innocent look.
“You mis…” Bast glared at her. “You did not and…” His eyes widened and he turned red, then he too looked away.
“Bast.” Rien laughed. “You act like you’ve never seen Rachel’s breasts before.” He put an arm around Rachel.
“Will you two churlish beetle-headed lewdsters put some damn clothes on?”
“Well, Lovely?” He turned to look down at her.
She made a show of considering the question before shaking her head. “He didn’t say please, Master Rien.”
“That’s right.” He kissed her nose. “He didn’t.” He turned back toward Bast. “You didn’t say please.”
“Will you froward impertinent saucy fly-bitten wayward unmuzzled dizzy-eyed errant tickle-brained strumpets please put some clothes on?”
“See, I’m pretty sure I know what all those words meant and they hurt my feelings.” Rien shook his head. “Hey, could you send Maela down as well, I uh…” He snickered. “Need another book.”
“Rachel, come out of there.” Bast began unfastening the lock on the door.
“Of course.” Rachel stepped out of the cell, only for Bast to immediately shove her back in.
“Well, if you’re going to be like that, Bast.” She folded her arms under her breasts. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“How rude of you to lay hands on a lady, Bast.” Rien snickered. “I’m disappointed in your —”
“Words cannot express how much I hate you both.” Bast slammed the cell door closed and locked it again.
“Such manners.” Rien rolled his eyes, then extended his hand to Rachel. “Well, Lovely, where were we?”
“If uh…” Sir Noel was tilting his head when they got back to the sitting room. After Bastien had assured them Rien wouldn’t actually try to escape, Aurel had left just one guard and that one a bit further away from the cell. The guards had drawn straws to determine who was left, and poor Sir Dieter had actually paled when he’d drawn the short one.
“What?” Bastien sighed.
“You’ve seen that woman, er…” Sir Noel shifted from foot to foot awkwardly. “Are they really Manisarian?” Bastien turned to glare at him, and Sir Noel actually took a step back. “I mean, uh, well, uh…” He turned red. “One hears things.”
“Sir Noel.” Aurel’s voice was cold. “You have duties to attend.”
“Right, sir, Baron, yes…” Sir Noel nodded several times before hastily exiting the room.
He took a couple deep breaths, then collected himself. “Father, I…” He blinked as a small sound came from where his father was standing. Bastien’s eyes widened. “Father?”
Aurel gave up all pretense of maintaining his dignity and just started laughing. “The king…” He closed his eyes and tried to get his laughter back under control. “Doesn’t…” He shook his head. “Gods above, Bastien, that man is a prince?”
“I’m starting to think the reason nobody has bothered trying to conquer the Wilders is they don’t want to be stuck with them.” Bastien rubbed his neck. Then his head came up. “I should check on Maela.” He started toward the rooms, then blinked when Aurel followed. “Father…?”
“Under the circumstances…” Aurel started snickering again. “I think chaperons may be required where those two ladies are concerned.”
Thanks to the sheer amount of fabric Rachel had been wearing when she’d joined him in the cell, the cot was now nicely padded. It was narrow though, meaning Rachel was pressed quite snuggly against him. That was not a hardship. Rien smiled as he ran his fingers through her hair. She returned his smile, her blue eyes warm and adoring. He kissed her. “You are a treasure, my Lovely.”
“Thank you, Master Rien.” She snuggled into him.
He held her close, and couldn’t deny that the gesture was at least somewhat protective. He was, after all, a prisoner, and she in the cell with him. If things went bad, she could be in considerable danger. Letting her in the cell had been a stupid move for him to make, but… Lammert was right. He was a spoiled, selfish shit. “Tomorrow you should return to your room, with your sister.”
“I want to stay with you, Master Rien.” She shook her head.
“Lovely, nothing gives me more pleasure than having you with me, but…” He kissed her forehead. “I need you safe, alright? I…” He swallowed past the lump rising in his throat. “Whatever happens, I need you safe.”
Rien cut her off with a kiss. “Lovely, as long as you are safe, I am happy. Please.”
“Yes, Master Rien.” She melted into his arms.
“Did you know what she planned?” Bastien raised an eyebrow at Maela.
“Bast…” Maela smiled. She was dressed demurely, in a dress of fetching green that set off the blue of her eyes. The skirt swirled around her ankles, and she’d chosen petticoats of a different color to draw the eye. He’d seen her naked, and yet he found himself hoping for a glimpse of her shapely calf beneath the gown. And from the slight smile she gave him, he knew she knew it. “You had to know what would happen if you let her into a cell with Master Rien.”
“I’ve clearly been around that man too long.” Bastien sighed. “I’ve gone stupid.”
“You’re such a surly simpleton.”
“Ha.” She bounced a little. “You called me that once already.”
“I…” He blinked. “No, I called Rachel that.”
“Did…” She frowned. “Ugh. That’s right. This round is yours.”
“I feel like I should disapprove of this.” Aurel pinched the bridge of his nose. “Lady Maela, are you settling in alright?”
“Oh, yes.” She nodded. “I like the tapestry you have chosen for this room. Late Katarin period, with all the blue and poem in the pattern embroidered along the edge. A Walk in Starlight.”
Aurel’s eyes widened just a little. “You read Katarin?”
“Maela is brilliant with languages.” Bastien shrugged. “And everything else.”
She blushed a little before nodding. “It’s phonetic, so once I memorized two of the odes and their translations, learning the actual script wasn’t difficult. It’s easier than some of the older languages that have more dialects because you don’t run into situations where the same word can mean eight different things, and it flows so beautifully for poetry and songs.” She smiled up at Aurel. “I’m writing the poem for when Bast and I explored the tomb in Katarin.”
“You’re writing a poem about exploring a tomb with my son?” Aurel blinked.
“And he is not allowed to help.” Maela shook her head. “He is a terrible poet.”
“Hey…” Bastien glared. “It rhymed.”
“Bastien there is more to poetry than rhyming.” Aurel gave him a disapproving look before turning back to Maela. “Have you read Ananta’s Song of Silver?”
“The difference between passion and love is truth, for love reveals the self and to be real it must be honest.” Maela nodded. “I cried the first time I read it.” She smiled shyly. “And the second.”
“It was my wife’s favorite.” Aurel smiled. “She used to read it to Bastien when he was a babe in arms.” He swallowed. “She cried too.” He took a deep breath. “It is getting late. We should not keep you from your rest, my lady.” He gestured to the door.
Bastien started to follow. “Bast?” He turned at the sound of Maela’s voice, and saw her shifting uncertainly.
“Where are you going?”
“I…” He blinked. “To my quarters.”
“You’re not…” She swallowed. “Can I come with you?”
“That’s uh…” Aurel shook his head. “Not appropriate.”
“But…” Maela rubbed her arm.
“Maela, no one here will…” Bastien took a deep breath when he saw tears coming to her eyes. “Maela, have you ever slept by yourself before?”
“No.” Her lip trembled. “There was always Rachel or…” She looked away. “Then there was you or Master Rien to keep me safe.”
“You…” Aurel blinked.
“Maela, I…” Bastien sighed. “Maela, you’ve smacked the River Dragon around with a sword and you shot an actual dragon in the face with a crossbow.” Then he smiled. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll make up a pallet by the door, alright?”
“That’s —” Aurel started shaking his head again.
“Alright.” Maela nodded, then smiled. “That way I can protect you too.”
“— unacceptable.” Aurel folded his arms.
“Nobody I’d rather have watching my back.” Bastien nodded.
“I am speaking out loud, am I not?” Aurel glared.
Two days passed. At first he’d been concerned they were actually going to make him and Rachel use the bucket, but either Bast had interceded or they’d taken mercy on Rachel. By simply taking hold of his hand and refusing to let go, Rachel had ensured he too, was permitted to use the actual bathing chamber and latrine. A couple of the guards worked up the nerve to look at Rachel, but they were all smart enough not to try touching her. Undoubtedly Bast was ensuring Maela was accorded the same respect.
Fresh clothes had been brought for them both that morning. Bast, however, had seen to it Rien’s vest was clean and had returned that to him. He smiled, then set the Solsthriem style clothing aside. Odds were he’d just have put it on backward anyway. Rien laced up Rachel’s bodice for her. This gown was more flattering than the one she’d worn previously, though it still showed far too little skin. He settled the vest over his shoulders. Nudity had never bothered him, but without his weapons he felt naked.
This time, when they secured his hands behind his back, they used a far heavier chain. He couldn’t quite stop himself from smirking just a little. Rachel gave him a worried look, and he sighed before nodding to her. Reluctantly, she went with one of the servants to rejoin her sister.
His life was on the line here, and his best chance was to, frankly, not be himself. He’d spoken with Bast that morning, told him that if the meeting did not go well, he and his father were to stand down. He’d gotten enough good men killed.
Bast met him at the door. The knight wore full armor, and had the dragonsword slung across his back. Rien narrowed his eyes. “You’re going to ignore every word I said this morning, aren’t you?”
“But not the fact you said them.” Bast met his eyes. “You ready?”
“It strikes me as strange, being a prince and all…” Rien shrugged. “But I’ve never actually met a king before.”
“What about your father?” Bast blinked.
“Pauwel was a chief, and then the queen’s consort. He was not, however, a king.” Rien shook his head. “I…” He lifted his chin. “Prisoner or not, I am not going to bow. I’ll have my own rank recognized. The sons of the dragon do not kneel.”
“All things considered…” Bast started walking. “I think that’s going to be the least of my worries.”