Emerging from the tent, Markis blinked. A stray beam of light found its way across the flat expanse of land directly into his eyes and blinded him. Disconcerted, he blinked several times trying to clear his vision. His eyes watered slightly and the idea that it might be more than tears from the pain made him feel uneasy. The setting sun had done its damage to his sight. He should have been able to see more even with the fading light, but everything looked like black shapes against a grey backdrop. He took a tentative step forward, still blinking, trying to will the spots dancing before his eyes away. He only recognised Ryanac because of the other man’s bulk.
“Where’s Uly?” Markis winced. He didn’t like the desperation in his voice.
“I’ve sent him on an errand. He’ll be gone for at least two hours.”
Ryanac’s words startled him. Markis frowned in puzzlement. “What did you do that for?” His voice sounded more shocked than angry, but he did nothing to hide his displeasure. He couldn’t make out his friend’s face but he could feel Ryanac’s gaze. When Ryanac turned aside, Markis fell into step beside him. That he knew Ryanac expected him to follow annoyed him further. What was wrong with him tonight? Every little thing struck Markis as an irritation. It made him want to scratch almost as if ants crawled over his skin. When Ryanac lifted the flap of a smaller tent, Markis only hesitated for a second and then ducked his head to enter. The tent was full of spare supplies. It contained one of the platforms some of them used for a bed while travelling. This one was smaller than his was, though. Dim light filtered into the tent. As he turned to look back at Ryanac, the last of the light caught his friend’s face where he stood in the entrance, the flap held back by one large hand.
Markis opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it again. His gaze flickered over the contours of Ryanac’s face. That visage was rugged. Ryanac’s designation suited him. Just as Markis was Shavar, the Comet, Ryanac was Silas. The name meant forest-dweller, a man of the woods, of the land. Indeed, although Markis rarely saw Ryanac out of armour, his bronzed skin gave him the appearance of one who spent much of his time out of doors, as if the sun had formed a permanent attachment for the man. The idea that the sun loved Ryanac as much as he did brought a small smile to Markis’s lips. This night of all nights, he was grateful for it.
The long, dark, silver-streaked hair lay in a braid that matched Markis’s own in terms of length and style. Even a few of the hairs in Ryanac’s eyebrows possessed a slight silver sheen, though one needed to be close to him to notice. The peculiarity of the man’s hair was nothing to do with age. Markis tried to recall if Ryanac’s father had grey in his hair, but that time when they worked and played on the farm seemed so distant now. When Markis thought back to those times, other, more pressing memories dominated his mind, pushing back such small considerations. He and Ryanac were the same age. Either the silver in his friend’s hair was due to heritage, or were due to things the man had seen on the battlefield. More likely, it was a combination of these. Thinking back provided the answer to the first question. No. The silver had not been present when they were young and had left for separate academies. By the time Markis set eyes on his friend again, the silver was an addition much like the fine scar that ran a short way down the side of Ryanac’s left cheek. The blemish did little to mar him. The line was fine, paler flesh than the surrounding skin, but it caught the eye. Still, even if the scar were worse, Markis doubted it would have done much to detract from that handsome face. Rugged, woody, wild, and even wolf-like, Ryanac’s dark eyes studied him, and then the man dropped the tent flap as he advanced.
Resisting the sudden urge to step back, Markis stood his ground, a frown threatening. He didn’t like the look he had seen in Ryanac’s eyes just before the tent flap dropped and yet, at the same time, he did. He tried to swallow, aware his throat felt suddenly dry. A brief glance at the few items surrounding the pallet was enough to tell him this was Ryanac’s bed. Of course, the chances were he would have slept in Markis’s tent or just outside it. Ryanac would be wherever Markis slept, and not just for personal reasons but for a sense of duty. Ryanac would not have left Tressa unattended, so he must have set a trustworthy guard over her even in the midst of a large camp containing their own men. The troop counted roughly a thousand men. They were safe enough, yet Markis never doubted Ryanac made certain he, Uly, and Tressa were always attended in some way. Whatever pretence Ryanac used to send Uly away tonight, he would have set a good man at his side. The act was
for some pretence; Markis felt sure of that now. For some reason, Ryanac had sent Uly away from him for a short time. He should have been surprised, but he wasn’t. No more than it came as any surprise that Ryanac would have sought out a quiet place, even if he spent little time here.
They were as good as the same height. They stood with no more than half a dozen paces separating them. Markis swallowed and lifted his head. Though they could barely make out each other’s features now the flap had closed, he was Shavar and he would face the man before him even if he felt as uncertain as he had all those many years ago when they first made love. Ryanac had been his first male lover; Uly, his second. There were no others. He doubted there ever would be.
Markis opened his mouth to speak and Ryanac closed that small distance, filling the gap made by his parted lips with his. One hand snaked around the back of Markis’s neck to grip the base of his skull and, as he automatically closed his eyes, Markis became aware of the heat of that hand burning into his head, and ultimately into his mind. The world drew down to the passion of Ryanac’s deep invasion, the dry musk that was all Ryanac’s smell, and the closeness of the moment. When they finally broke apart, Markis blinked and opened his eyes to search his friend’s face. “What brought that on?” he whispered.
He received no answer. His friend’s dark eyes took him in, that quiet gaze all-consuming. “This is rather in the way, don’t you think?”
It took Markis a moment to realise his friend referred to his clothing, and by then Ryanac’s hands were moving deftly, separating hooks and unfastening buckles. Markis had gone out with only light armour today, believing to do otherwise would be an insult to the men protecting him, as well as stifling. Now he was in two minds as to whether the idea was a good one. The uniform was quite easy to remove but, seeing the look in Ryanac’s eye, Markis wasn’t sure he wanted to be naked. He lifted a hand in a stalling gesture only to have it slapped away. Ryanac’s hand gripped and wrapped his braid into a coil. He used the grip to jerk Markis slightly to one side and to press them together. Once more, the dim view of the tent was lost to his sight as Markis’s eyes automatically closed for the kiss. His friend’s free hand ran over his body through what remained of the outfit.
“Off,” Ryanac grunted, and Markis only hesitated a moment. He felt strangely adrift, disconnected from what was happening. A peculiar atmosphere invaded the tent and he suspected that it largely came from Ryanac. Whatever goaded the man to these actions, whether it was love, lust, or both, he didn’t feel as though Ryanac would accept a refusal. More than that, Markis didn’t feel he had the right to refuse. That was crazy, of course. Sex was a thing only freely given, never taken. That was the Swithin way. On top of that, he was Shavar; he was a prince. Still, bare-chested now, it felt as if he had no say, no control. Markis opened his mouth, unsure what he intended to say, and what left his lips was a gasp. Ryanac jerked them together so that the harshness of buckles, belts, and studs, impaled his naked, vulnerable flesh, and beneath all that, he could feel the hardness of Ryanac himself. As Ryanac used one hand to press them together and the other slipped lower to cup his backside, it left Markis with no doubt that his friend knew exactly how this felt and what it was doing to him. Both grips tightened and his body gave of its own volition. Hard, unforgiving adornments rubbed at sensitive areas, stroked his nipples to peaks. His back arched a little, forcing the heat of their groins together. Ryanac pulled back just enough so that the last of the light caught one of his eyes. The pupil glittered and then the man leaned in to whisper.
“I’m going to fuck you,” Ryanac said softly, calmly, evenly. There was no question in that statement, no seeking permission. “I’m going to fuck you,” Ryanac whispered, “and you are going to love it.”
A perfectly situated hook of his leg flipped Markis backward. If Ryanac hadn’t followed him down onto the bed it might have hurt, but his guard knew how to hold him, how to lower him. Ryanac possessed the strength and Markis had only a moment to wonder why he even wanted to fight it.
Sharon Maria Bidwell