Gian’s eyes were wide, and he was grinning like a small child. Sita pranced just a little, making Gian laugh gleefully. The sight brought a smile to Ruarc’s face as he kept a firm grip on the lead rope. Sita trotted in a circle around him. He’d been shocked to learn Gian had not only never ridden a horse before, but had a fear of them. Sita’s sweet nature had taken care of the latter problem, and letting Gian ride sidesaddle ensured he was comfortable trying the former.
Sita had learned quickly that Gian was an absolute pushover for treats and pats. Whether it was just the chance at more exercise or her own nature, she appeared to be having just as much fun as Gian. She even kicked up her heels a little to make him squeal. Ruarc sighed when he noted the position of the sun. “Time to head back.” He clicked his tongue, and Sita came to him.
“She’s wonderful.” Gian beamed as he slid off the saddle into Ruarc’s arms. Ruarc set him on the ground, and Gian immediately turned to Sita. “You are. You’re the most beautiful animal in the world.” Sita nickered in response, and Gian laughed. “She’s talking to me.”
“I’ve always suspected she understands most of what I say.” He led his companions back into the castle. In the stables, he showed Gian how to rub Sita down, then smiled to himself as Gian started plaiting her mane and promising her ribbons next time. She tossed her head proudly when he finished. “He’s going to spoil you.” He patted the horse.
“Yes.” Gian rubbed her neck. “I will bring you apples and carrots and oats and —”
“Not too many, or you can make her sick.” Ruarc shook his head.
“Just the right amount then.” Gian leaned in toward Sita and whispered to the horse. “And I won’t tell Ruarc about the occasional sugar stick if you don’t.” Sita nickered in response.
Ruarc just rolled his eyes as he headed out of the stables.
Vitalia ran her fingers through Ruarc’s hair. He hung from the ceiling, his body spread eagled and stretched to its limits. Stripes in various shades of red decorated him front and back. She’d paid especial attention to his ass and the backs of his thighs. He was panting and having some difficulty raising his head, but he was still conscious. She smiled. “Let him down, slowly.”
Madzia turned the wheel to lower the shackles securing Ruarc’s wrists above his head. To her delight, Ruarc didn’t fall as the restraints loosened. He wobbled just a little, but stayed on his feet. “Oh…” She ran her fingertips over the welts on his chest, making him wince just a little. “You are a strong boy, aren’t you?” She took the key out of her belt pouch and began unfastening the shackles around his wrists while Madzia did the same to the ones around his ankles. As soon as he was freed, she stepped back. “Kneel.”
He glanced up at her, but obeyed, sinking to his knees. She attached the leash to the collar around his neck, then gave a slight tug. He didn’t need a command. He knew what she wanted. He followed after her on his hands and knees, crawling behind her all the way to the bed chamber. Durante was waiting there, and she saw the slightest flinch on Ruarc when he caught sight of the man.
She disrobed, then settled back on the bed before tugging the leash to bring Ruarc to her. He obeyed, coming in to kiss her breasts as he’d learned she liked. Durante joined them on the bed, positioning himself behind Ruarc and catching hold of Ruarc’s collar. As Ruarc began entering her, his body jerked and he let out a cry of pain as Durante entered him. She moaned as Durante shoved Ruarc deeper into her, then smiled as the rhythm of Durante’s brutal fuck of Ruarc caused Ruarc to move in her. Ruarc let out another small sound whenever Durante gave a particularly hard thrust.
Durante came just before she did.
He lay face down, wincing even under Gian’s gentle fingers. Gian made a small sound of misery whenever Ruarc flinched. “He did not prepare you at all.” Gian’s voice actually held anger. Then he offered Ruarc one of the potions. “Ruarc, I’m sorry. Some of the whip marks may scar.”
“It’s alright, Gian.” He took the potion gratefully, but only drank half. The other half he concealed carefully beneath a loose floorboard.
“Ruarc…” Gian started shaking his head.
“I took enough.” Ruarc sat up gingerly, and said a silent prayer that he was being truthful. “She doesn’t know about all the times Durante hurts you, does she?”
“She…” Gian looked away. “As long as he doesn’t do me permanent harm, she doesn’t care.”
“I do.” Ruarc smiled at him. He exhaled. “I should —”
“I stole it.” The words came out of Gian in a rush.
“Gian?” Ruarc blinked.
“It was with the other notes from…” Gian rushed to the side of his cot, and lifted the mattress. “She hadn’t seen it yet. She doesn’t know it came.” He held out a folded and sealed piece of parchment.
Parchment with his family’s seal. Ruarc’s hand trembled a little as he took it from Gian. “She’ll have…” He looked up at Gian. “Have you a knife? Heat it, and we’ll lift the seal.”
Gian quickly obliged, then curled up next to Ruarc as he read the letter. His sister’s handwriting. His sister’s words. He hadn’t been allowed a letter since Durante had ordered the one burned. The duchess told him what questions to answer. “She’s being courted.” He blinked back tears. “They were able to…” He swallowed. Had it really been more than a year since he’d seen them? “They were able to secure more credit from the one holding the note, and the vineyards are bringing in income.” No wonder the duchess didn’t want him to see these. If his family could get stable on their own, without the stipend, her hold on him ended.
As carefully as he could, he replaced the seal, then gave the letter back to Gian to hide. “We’ll have to get it back on her desk.”
“I can.” Gian nodded, then frowned a little at Ruarc. “You’re crying.” He reached up to wipe a tear from Ruarc’s cheek. “I thought you’d be happy.”
“I am.” He swallowed again. “That’s why I’m crying.” He smiled, then pulled Gian into a hug.
Durante groaned a little at the feel of Ruarc’s mouth on his cock, and forced the head past the resistance. Ruarc choked and gagged, but with secured as he was to the pillory he couldn’t escape the onslaught. Durante tangled his fingers in the knight’s hair as he continued fucking the man’s throat. Gian may have had far better technique, but Ruarc still resisted and gagged. And with the metal ring holding the man’s mouth open wide, there was no chance of teeth.
Instead of releasing himself down the man’s throat, he pulled out and came over Ruarc’s face. Then he wiped his cock off in the man’s dark hair before patting his cheek. “That was fun. See you again in an hour.”
It took a few minutes of Gian and a damp rag before he could get his left eye open. Ruarc sighed. “I have been a soldier and fought in many battles. Some were brutal. But you know, until meeting Durante…” He looked up at Gian. “I never really understood the urge to beat someone to death with my bare hands.”
Gian giggled, then glanced fearfully at the door. “Mustn’t let them hear you say things like that.”
“Yeah…” He exhaled and let Gian finish cleaning his face. “I know.” The duchess had left him in the pillory all day. Durante apparently didn’t have much in the way of real duties, because he’d found time for six visits. Even the times he’d chosen to take Ruarc’s ass, he’d still spilled his cum over Ruarc’s face. The act served no purpose other than humiliation. A reminder that while Ruarc may technically be the lord of the castle, he was beneath Durante, a lowborn bastard servant.
“She’s going away for a few days soon. She’ll take him with her.” Gian hesitated. “She may not take you.”
“If she doesn’t…” He smiled at Gian. “Why don’t I take you hunting? Teach you how to catch a fox.”
“Could I keep it for a pet?” Gian smiled hopefully, then the smile faded. “Durante would stomp it.”
“I wish I could say otherwise.” Ruarc rolled his eyes.
“Do we have to kill it?” Gian batted his eyes at Ruarc. “They are so beautiful.”
Sometimes, it was easy to forget Gian was actually a man. Especially when he was like this. He touched Gian’s chin affectionately. “I’ll let you pet it a few times, then we’ll let it go.”
“I’m going to name it.” Gian sat back on the bed and tucked his legs beneath the dressing gown he wore. “I hope it’s a girl fox, because I want to name it Starlight.” He reached under the cot, and pulled out a piece of parchment before smiling at Ruarc again.
“Gian, if you were a woman, I would kiss you.” Ruarc grinned as he took the letter.
Vitalia went through her papers. She started to set aside a folded letter, then stopped. She pulled it closer to her, then frowned. The seal was just slightly off. Her eyes narrowed as she took a more careful look, running her finger along the wax. Then she set it back down. Ruarc had no access to her office, nor to the messages. She took a deep breath, then rang a bell.
Gian entered a few moments later, bowing deeply. “My lady, you rang?”
She slid the letter forward, then raised an eyebrow at him. He paled just a little. “You stole this.”
“I stole nothing, my lady.” He shook his head, but his eyes were wide. “The letter is there.”
Slowly, she stood. He cringed a little as she stepped out from around her desk. “If it wasn’t you…” She glanced at the letter, then back at him. “Then it must have been Ruarc.” She stared at Gian. “I had warned him, but perhaps it a punishment is in order.”
“You…” Gian swallowed. “You’re going to punish Ruarc?” He shifted his weight from one foot to another.
“If it wasn’t you, it must have been him. And you say it wasn’t you.” She smiled just a little, then shrugged. “Perhaps I’ve allowed him too many ties back to his former life. Go to Durante, and instruct him that the horse is to be sold.”
“It was me.” Gian started shaking his head before falling to his knees. “It wasn’t Ruarc. He isn’t even allowed in your office. It was me. It was me, my lady.”
“I see.” She nodded. “Gian.” She sighed. “You disappoint me.”
Ruarc headed down the hall. Out of the ten new guards, six were worthy to be given swords. He had some doubts the other four had managed to dress themselves. Vitalia really should let him do the hiring, but that would require her to allow him a mote or two of freedom, and some influence over her servants. He knocked lightly on the door, then stepped into Gian’s quarters. Then he froze, staring. A young man stood by the window, dressed in a plain tunic and trousers. His hair was cropped close to his head, and his eyes were huge and miserable. It was the eyes that clued him in. “Gian?”
Gian’s response was to let out a sob before turning away and burying his face in the curtains. Ruarc entered the room all the way, shutting the door behind him. “Gian, what…”
“She burned my pretty robes.” Gian’s shoulders shook. “The ones I made and embroidered and she had Madzia put them in the…” He could barely get the words out.
“Why would…” Ruarc started shaking his head, then stared. He’d thought the robes were one of the duchess’s games. “You made them?”
A fresh sob came from the young man. As soon as Ruarc put a hand on Gian’s shoulder, Gian yanked away. “Don’t look at me.” He frantically shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to see this me.”
“Gian…” Ruarc shook his head. “Gian, I…” He sighed, then nodded before turning around. “I’m not looking at you now, Gian. Tell me what happened.”
“I didn’t fix the seal right on the letter. She was going to sell Sita if I didn’t fess up and…” Gian’s choked on the words. “I didn’t want Sita to go. She’s our horse and…” Gian trailed off. “Your horse.”
“She’s punishing you by letting you dress as a man?” Ruarc tilted his head and frowned, trying to make sense of what was going on.
“You’re not going to look at me anymore.” Gian’s voice was quiet.
He blinked. “Gian, the only reason I’m not looking at you now is because you asked me —”
“That’s…” Gian choked on the words. “You don’t like men. You’d never let a man tie you up and please you like you let me sometimes but now she’s making me be a man and you won’t look at me any —”
“Gian.” Ruarc turned, then reached out and caught Gian’s arms. He pulled Gian to him and into a hug, and felt Gian shaking. “Oh, Gian.” He held his friend tightly.
“You won’t look at me anymore.” Gian sobbed into his shoulder.
“Gian, my sweet…” He rubbed Gian’s back. “I don’t care how you dress. Short hair or not…” He reached up and caught Gian’s chin. “You’re still beautiful.”
“Ruarc?” Gian stared up at him.
He smiled, then bent his head to kiss Gian’s lips. Gian flung his arms around Ruarc’s neck as he returned the kiss.