Kedmund surveyed the scene. It took him only the briefest glance to take it all in and make his judgment. He sighed. This one was liable to be trouble. He would have to be watched carefully. No chore that, to be sure.
The guard Jalamar was knocked out cold and bleeding from his nose. Selir lay on the floor, clutching his leg and whimpering like a newborn babe. And the prisoner, his prisoner, also lay on the floor with his back to the wall and his hands still bound behind him. A fighter, and a skilled one from the look of it.
Of course he’d known there was something different and certainly special about this one even beyond his incredible beauty. Now he knew what it was. The young man was wild, a cougar that could perhaps be contained but not tamed. The thought made his blood sing and his cock twitch.
Not that the slave was meant for him, not for the long-term. Although he could have the pleasure of sinking his shaft into that strong, young body, of feeling the wildcat buck underneath him, it was a pleasure he would not take. Though there were other things they might do, first he had to rid himself of these oafish guards.
Kedmund frowned down at Selir. With the toe of one booted foot, he nudged the guard. “Get up and leave us. And take the other one with you. See that he doesn’t choke on his own blood. Do you think you can do that?”
“But, sir, that one’s dangerous. He’ll--”
“That wasn’t a request. I don’t require your opinion, informed as it may be.”
“Aye, sir.” Selir dropped his gaze, but not before Kedmund read the man’s thoughts in his eyes, the resentment and scorn, the anger that one such as he would be in a position to give an order to one such as Selir.
Kedmund didn’t acknowledge the man’s opinion. He knew what most, if not all the guards thought of him and the position he held in Garrass’s household and the authority that position accorded him. He knew they resented him, that some even hated him and would, if given the chance, do him harm. It was why he never truly relaxed his guard around them. Why it was so critical never to back down, never to show even the slightest weakness. Like now.
Selir got slowly to his feet, wincing when he put weight on his left leg. He said nothing, however, as he bent and took Jalamar under the arms and dragged him to the door.
Kedmund returned his attention to the new prisoner. Indeed this one had the potential for danger. He could sense it simmering just under the surface.
That heat, properly channeled, would make him an amazing bed partner.
Kedmund’s cock stiffened at the thought of all that suppressed feral energy unleashed, but only under the most strictly controlled circumstances.
Because this one could do damage. Even bound as he was, he had proven that.
He thought of the knife strapped to his thigh. He itched to draw it and slice through the rope that held the man’s wrists so that he might see how this one moved.
Like a panther, Kedmund thought. He would move like an exotically beautiful but dangerous panther.
“Would you care to have your hands free?”
Dark eyes met his, held them, but the prisoner said nothing. He gave only the slightest jerk of one shoulder. It appeared to be all the movement he could manage. Or mayhap he didn’t speak the language.
“Do you speak Inemori, boy?”
The man’s dark eyes flashed. “Aye, but I am no more a boy than you are.”
Kedmund smiled thinly and drew his knife. He turned it so that the light falling from the torch on the wall glinted off the blade always honed to a razor’s edge.
“We need to have an understanding before I free your hands.”
A dark brow lifted. “And what would that be?”
“That you will refrain from violence.” Kedmund turned the blade, showing his prisoner the edge. “For I would not wish to have to use this for aught but what I intended when I drew it.”
“And what did you intend?”
“Why, to free your hands, of course.” He motioned with the blade. “Turn around and I shall cut the rope.” When the man started to rise, Kedmund motioned him back. “Remain on your knees.”
In truth he was enjoying this session far more than he had the others, though the dark boy, Adeleh, was extremely pleasant to look at. The other, the pale-haired youth, Kedmund had dismissed almost immediately. He was pretty enough, to be sure. But his demeanor would not be pleasing to His Majesty, for the youth was far too timid.
This one, however, he had spirit. Garrass would enjoy him, and enjoy sharing his favors if only to gain the envy of those whom he allowed to taste the man’s charms. But no more than a taste. Kedmund could predict that. This one would be a favorite, much as he himself had been a favorite of Garrass’s father in his day.
He leaned forward with the knife, every sense on the alert, looking for any sudden movement. None came. He sliced through the first rope, then the next and the next, not stopping until the ropes fell away and the young man was free.
His only indication of relief was a barely audible sigh. His wrists bore cruel-looking raw patches where the ropes had bitten deeply into his skin. He didn’t rub them. He didn’t do anything.
“What’s your name?” Kedmund asked.
“What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, not to me. Your fate is nothing to me.” Gods, but that was a lie.
“Oh aye, which is why you chose me from that line of men and had me brought here.”
Kedmund sighed and sheathed his knife. “Mind your tongue or I’ll have it removed. Where you’re going, you won’t need to speak.”
Which was also a lie, but his prisoner didn’t need to know that.
“And where am I going, pray tell?”
“Me. My decision. On whether I find you suitable.” Kedmund circled his prisoner slowly, noticing how the man turned his head, trying always to keep him in sight. Not a trusting sort, this one.
Knowing it would make the man uneasy, he stopped directly behind him.
Still on his knees, the prisoner attempted to turn his body.
“Face front,” Kedmund snapped in the tone he used with the soldiers. He’d found that if a man had military training, he would respond to an order almost without thought.
His prisoner hesitated but turned and faced front. “I do not wish to have you out of my sight.”
“That’s unfortunate for you, but your wishes mean nothing here. Now remove your clothing.”
Kedmund cuffed the prisoner on the back of the head, not an especially hard blow, not meant to cause injury. The man’s face paled, and he fell forward onto his hands and knees.
“Just do it or it shall be done for you.”
He half expected the man to lash out, but he only knelt there, breathing hard and not moving. He stayed that way for a long time, long enough that Kedmund began to feel uneasy.
Had he missed some essential weakness or flaw in the man’s makeup?
“What are you waiting for?”
“I had an injury recently, and I’m quite dizzy at the moment.”
“Do you need anything? A healer perhaps?”
“No, not a healer, but if you could... “ He reached out.
Because the man’s distress seemed genuine, Kedmund stepped forward and cautiously offered his hand.
The new slave accepted his help. His grip was warm, and there was strength in his grasp. Lightly calloused, these were not the hands of a nobleman. This man’s touch would please Garrass, who, though he appreciated male beauty, did not want his lovers to appear too soft. It was a sentiment he and the king shared in kind.
Kedmund pulled the younger man to his feet, then quickly released him. The man swayed and, lifting a hand, rubbed a place above his left ear.
“Are you injured?”
“’Tis nothing,” the slave said.
“Let me see.”
“I told you, ’tis nothing.”
“Then let me see.” Kedmund touched the place. A lump the size of a robin’s egg marred the perfection of his skull.
“Ow.” The man flinched.
“Aye, I would imagine it does pain you.” His fingers came away clean. At least there was no blood. That was something. “We’ll have it seen to when we’ve finished here. Can you undress, or do you need help?”
“I can do it. But why?”
“I need to examine you for flaws.” Though admittedly he could see none at the moment.
“What sort of flaws?” The slave’s dark gaze held Kedmund’s.
“Any flaws that would displease His Majesty, King Garrass.” Or might result in your dismissal to the mines or the brothels
. Which would probably be best all around, given his own reaction to this new slave.
The man snorted his derision. “I serve no one here in this place.”
“Indeed. Well, you’d best get yourself used to the idea of servitude, for you’re enslaved to Garrass of Inemor.” Kedmund motioned to the man’s clothes. “Now, off with these rags.”
“Suppose I do not wish to serve your Garrass of Inemor?” He reached for his belt.
“It matters not what you wish. But if you’d prefer to work in the mines, I can arrange it.”
“Still in the service of Garrass of Inemor.”
“Aye, though you’d have other, crueler masters to please. Or perhaps you’d prefer the brothels, where you would be used by the Inemori army.” Kedmund took the belt and tossed it aside. “We call the men we send there comfort slaves, for they provide release to our soldiers.”
The young man stiffened. “The brothels. Where the slaves are used for sex by other men.”
“Aye. For sex. In the Inemori culture, we believe the male body was created for pleasure. Most Inemori men of the upper class have a male lover in addition to a wife.”
The slave’s hands stilled in the act of pulling his tunic up and over his head. “Lover?”
“What? This is a shock to you? I know there are cultures, backward ones to be sure, where sexual contact between men is forbidden, but surely you were aware that such practices are common in the wider world.”
“I know it exists. I just wasn’t aware that I was to be the king’s lover.” The slave got himself moving again. He finished undressing in silence. At last he stood before Kedmund naked, his arms at his sides. Color tinged his cheeks as if he were embarrassed by his nudity.
To be sure, he had nothing for which to feel embarrassed.
“Keep your eyes down and place your hands behind you like this.”
Kedmund arranged the man’s hands behind his back, enjoying the texture of his skin and the jump of the slave’s pulse under his fingertips. Then because he could, he ran his palm down the man’s lean flank, pleased by the ripple of gooseflesh in the wake of his touch and how the boy’s small brown nipples peaked. So lovely.
“Am I to be bound like this?”
“Nay, but you are to present yourself in this pose, else you may be bound.”
Silently he complied. His posture was perfect, an almost military bearing. Though his eyes were lowered, his head was held high.
Indeed the young man had a beautiful body, lithe and smoothly muscled. Kedmund was reminded once more of a panther’s grace.
He circled the slave, aware suddenly of the beat of his own heart, thudding quick and hard in his chest. Stopping in front of him, Kedmund deliberately skimmed his gaze down and back up.
Dark hair dusted the man’s arms and legs. His chest was broad and muscular, the tight little nubs begging for attention, mayhap to be licked or even bitten. Kedmund’s gaze followed the trail of hair bisecting the flat belly, down to the patch of dark curls at the base of a flaccid cock.
“You will be the king’s slave, not his lover, unless he chooses that life for you, which is highly doubtful. The king enjoys variety in his bed partners.”
The man said nothing.
Knowing he shouldn’t, for he was already far too fascinated by this one, Kedmund lifted the slave’s ball sac, weighing it in his palm as though he were testing fruit for ripeness in the market. “Have you ever been with a man?”
“A virgin then.”
“I have lain with women.”
“Well, now you’ll lie with men.” Kedmund rolled the man’s balls between his fingers. The slave’s cock twitched and began to fill. Kedmund smiled into his prisoner’s eyes. “I can see you have no objection to a man’s touch.”
“I would prefer it to the mines, I think.” The words sounded a bit breathless, but the slave didn’t stir except for his cock, which continued to thicken and lengthen.
Kedmund forced a laugh, for his own breath seemed to have clogged in his throat. He took the half-hard cock in hand and stroked. “Prefer it. Oh aye, I can see that you do.”
The slave licked his lips. “Would it matter if I did object?”
“Not to me, though the king prefers that his slaves feel some pleasure during their encounters.” The cock in Kedmund’s hand was now fully hard. Under his fingers, he could count the man’s heartbeats in the big vein that ran up the underside. “Tell me, boy, are you feeling pleasure?”
“You know I am.”
His hips pressed forward, his shaft sliding against Kedmund’s palm.
Kedmund’s own member was as hard as iron. He pressed a hand against it and imagined baring himself, yanking this man against him and grinding their cocks together until this terrible fascination was quelled. Or spinning him to face the wall, plunging balls-deep and thrusting, thrusting, thrusting until he spilled inside that hot, tight channel. Gods, how good it would feel, like a velvet fist milking him. And the boy would enjoy it too, for Kedmund knew how to take a man for the first time, how to please him and keep him hard as stone until--
! It was madness to allow himself such fantasies and against every rule he had set up for himself. He should release the slave’s cock and have him taken away.
Indeed, that was what he should do.
Instead he tightened his fingers, gripping the hot, hard flesh the way he gripped his own member when he was alone in his solitary bed, the way he would when he thought of this man later that very night.
Again the slave shifted his hips, the slightest of movements. It could almost have been called accidental if not for the need radiating from him and the scent of sex suddenly surrounding them both.
Kedmund gave the slave’s cock a light squeeze. The man’s breath caught, and a clear bead of fluid welled from his slit.
“And what about you, Master Kedmund?” the slave murmured. “Do you prefer the touch of a man?”
Kedmund stepped in close. He swiped his thumb over the man’s cockhead. “You ask too many questions, boy.”
“And you answer too few, sir.”
Someone knocked on the cell door, two sharp raps. “Master Kedmund, His Majesty the king bids you attend him.”
Kedmund released the young slave’s cock and stepped back, wiping his hand against his own tunic.
“Aye, I’ll be right along,” Kedmund called. To the slave, he said, “I suppose you’ll do. Someone will come for you, and you’ll be taken to your quarters. You’re to wait there for further instructions.”
With his heart still pounding and his cock as hard as ever it had been, Kedmund turned and strode to the door.
The slave master paused, one hand on the doorknob. “Aye?”
“My name is Alejandro. If it’s all the same, I prefer that to boy.”