The anticipation was the worst, Kynon thought, and he expected he’d go on thinking it until the warlord actually... Well, until it happened. But for now it was the waiting that tormented him -- a psychological torture that felt worse than anything the warlord could inflict. Kynon had allowed his anger to build. He had every right to feel outraged. He wasn’t just going to sit here like a dumb animal and wait. He wasn’t a prize of war. He wasn’t a thing
“I demand to see the king!” he shouted at the door. His fists hurt, and blood oozed from his knuckles.
The door swung open suddenly, and Kynon sprawled backward onto the floor.
The same captain who had overseen their scrub-down in the stable yard stood on the threshold. He looked down at Kynon and didn’t smirk at his nakedness or seem embarrassed for him.
“What’s all this noise?” he asked.
“I want to see my father!” Kynon said, climbing to his feet.
“He doesn’t want to see you,” the captain said.
“That’s a lie!” Kynon exclaimed, although there was nothing in the man’s face to suggest it.
The captain only shrugged. He was not a tall man, but he was broad. Kynon could see the cords of muscle in his forearms. He was in his thirties, tanned, and there was a trace of amusement in his green-gray eyes.
Mistress Hera, when she appeared behind him, had a face like stone. “What is going on here, Rennick?”
The captain nodded his head deferentially. “The tribute was making a fuss, Mistress Procurator.”
“Indeed,” said Hera, turning her blazing eyes on Kynon. “And he’s already forgotten the position!”
Alysia, Kynon saw belatedly, had not. She was kneeling with her knees apart and her hands behind her neck.
Hera sighed. “Take him to the stable yard, Rennick.”
“Yes, Mistress Procurator,” said the captain. He was matter-of-fact. He held Kynon still while he tried to struggle, and buckled a leather collar around his neck.
“Don’t touch me!” Kynon twisted and squirmed in his grasp, but the captain was too strong for him.
The captain hauled him from the room.
Kynon’s bare feet could hardly get purchase as he was dragged along the passageway. He stumbled when he hit the steps, and the captain kept him from falling by pulling back on the collar. Kynon struggled for breath. One of the maids, meeting them on the steps, gasped and dropped the tray she was carrying. It crashed to the stones, and the sound echoed loudly.
“You make a scene, you get an audience,” said the captain as other servants came running.
Kynon was humiliated but still struggled to be free.
Rennick dragged him farther down into the keep.
The sunlight, when it hit Kynon in the face, almost blinded him. The captain dragged him across the stable yard and threw him to the ground. Then he took a piece of leather and bound Kynon’s wrists tightly together in front of him. As Rennick was bending over him, Kynon tried to get a knee into the man’s groin, but Rennick was too quick for him. He pressed Kynon onto the ground with a hand on his throat.
Kynon choked for breath.
Rennick watched him carefully. Just as Kynon thought the man meant to kill him then and there, he released the pressure on Kynon’s throat. Kynon gasped, rolling onto his side.
“There now,” said Rennick casually. “Behave yourself.”
Kynon tasted mud. His head was throbbing, his lungs ached, and he could hear men laughing.
Rennick hauled him to his knees. “Stay.”
Kynon looked around and saw that the warlord himself was in the stable yard with several of his generals. Brasius’s dark eyes were hooded, and his handsome face gave nothing away. He was leaning against the wall of the keep, watching.
Kynon saw another familiar face: Conal. Conal had been his best friend since childhood, ever since Ambassador Trefus had come to Caralis from Lutrica to take up his diplomatic position and brought his son along with him. What Conal was doing talking with Brasius, the enemy, Kynon had no idea. Perhaps Trefus had sent his son to flatter and admire the warlord, even though it was probably already too late to try to influence the man with courtly pleasantries. Lutrica would be next, now Caralis had fallen. It was as inevitable as the dawn.
Conal’s golden hair, flyaway on the breeze, caught the sunlight. His face was pale, and his eyes widened with shock as he caught Kynon’s gaze.
Kynon, mortified at having his friend see him like this, didn’t even hear the swish
of the whip through the air before the narrow tails caught him on the back. His whole body lifted off the ground, his back arched, and his breath was knocked out of him. The pain was sudden and intense. It spread across his flesh like fire. He felt like he’d been cut to the bone.
He didn’t scream the first time. He didn’t have the breath. The second time the whip caught him, aimed squarely between his shoulder blades so that the tails curled up over his shoulders and around his neck, Kynon screamed. He was sure the captain was going to kill him.
Through eyes flooded with tears, he saw Brasius still watching. And Conal as well, frozen to the spot in horror.
Kynon couldn’t count the strokes. They bled together. He tasted blood when he bit the inside of his cheek, and tasted mud when he fell forward onto the ground. He didn’t know how long he lay there before Rennick threw a bucket of water over him to revive him. It hit his back like burning oil, and he sucked in a mouthful of mud and started to choke.
Kynon saw boots in front of his vision.
“Only five, Rennick?” the warlord asked, and Kynon heard the smile in his voice.
“I must be going soft, sir,” Rennick said.
Kynon flinched at the cautious touch of a hand against his shoulder. “Kynon?” It was Conal. “Are you all right?”
“Stand up, Conal,” said the warlord in an amused voice. “The ambassador needs to tell you that it is not appropriate to touch another man’s spoils of war.”
Rennick hooked his hand through Kynon’s collar and pulled him back up to his knees. He swayed there until his eyes found the warlord’s face.
“I want to see my father,” he managed.
Something like surprise passed across the warlord’s face at the audacity, and then it was gone again. He ignored Kynon and turned to Conal instead. “Tell the ambassador I have no time to see him presently.”
“Yes, sir,” Conal stammered, executing a clumsy bow before he fled the stable yard.
Kynon kept his gaze fixed on the warlord’s face. He wanted to scream, to spit, to fight, to do something, but he didn’t have the strength. “I want to see my father,” he repeated.
The warlord looked at him curiously. “He has spirit, Rennick.”
“Yes, sir.” Rennick pressed a cup against Kynon’s lips. “Drink. It’ll take the sting away.”
Kynon obeyed. The liquid tasted strange, and almost immediately the pain in his back defused. It throbbed no worse than sunburn now.
Rennick pulled Kynon to his feet and hauled him through the castle again, up the stairs to his old bedroom. When Rennick pushed the door open, Kynon saw Alysia, her eyes squeezed shut, lying on the bed with her parted legs hanging over the edge.
Kynon, leaning heavily against Rennick, felt the man’s cock suddenly harden and jab him in the hip. Despite his discomfort, Kynon wasn’t immune to the sight either.
Mistress Hera, standing between Alysia’s legs, looked up at them as they entered. She stepped away. “Assume the position.”
Alysia scrambled to the floor quickly.
Rennick hauled Kynon over to the end of the bed and attached him by a length of chain to the bottom bedpost. He did the same to Alysia, while Hera inspected the marks on Kynon’s back.
Kynon shivered as Hera trailed her fingers over the stinging, swollen ridges of his flesh. He cried out when she suddenly raked her nails down his spine.
“This is nice work, Rennick,” she said.
“Thank you, Mistress Procurator.”
Rennick gave Kynon more of the strange drink and then offered the cup to Alysia. Then he and Hera left, and the awful day wore on.
Kynon shifted uncomfortably on the floor.
“Are you all right?” Alysia whispered at last.
He hunkered over. “Is there much blood?”
Alysia made sympathetic sounds. “Only a little.”
Kynon swore under his breath. “Felt like bucketloads.”
“Your Highness,” Alysia whispered, “when do you think it will happen?”
“Don’t call me that, please,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Nightfall, he thought. It seemed apt for such indignities to be suffered in darkness, but the sun was still in the sky when they heard the latch opening on the door.
They both climbed to their knees quickly. His hands behind his neck, Kynon looked across at Alysia. He envied her long hair. With her head bowed, her golden hair shielded her face like a curtain. Kynon wished he had something to protect his shame.
Brasius stood before them. “You have learned the basics well. One of you a little slower than the other, of course.”
Kynon flushed, and his back burned.
Brasius exhaled. “Were you sent to me as voluntary tributes, I would have allowed you both some time for proper training. However, we must travel to Segasa as soon as possible, and you will both submit before that happens. I will take you by force if I must, but I would prefer your compliance.”
Kynon raised his face and dared to look into the warlord’s dark eyes. “It is still force, whether we comply or not.”
The warlord’s mouth curled into a slight smile. “It is a different kind of force and infinitely more preferable for you, for your family, and for this kingdom. I do not tolerate oath-breakers. Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” Kynon tried not to flinch away as the warlord reached forward to touch his hair. The warlord ran his hand through his hair and partway down his back, and the slight touch reawakened the pain of his welts. His back throbbed and -- to Kynon’s horror -- so did his cock. He didn’t understand his body’s reaction to the man’s touch and wondered if it had something to do with the strange drink Rennick had given him. Of course it was some sort of drug; it had eased his pain immediately. Apparently that was not its only effect.
“You are quite lovely.” The warlord glanced at Alysia. “Both of you.”
Kynon stared fixedly at the floor. He wondered which one of them would suffer the warlord’s attention first and hated himself for hoping it was Alysia.
To Kynon’s surprise, and to his relief, Brasius seemed to lose interest in them. He crossed to the desk that had been Kynon’s until two days before and sat there. Moments afterward, the door to the room opened again. Rennick entered with papers in his hands. A soldier followed him with a tray of food, and Kynon’s stomach growled. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d eaten, and he tried not to let his hunger show on his face.
Rennick set the food on the desk, and Brasius ignored it. Instead, he turned his attention to the papers. With Rennick standing by his side, he began to work through them. Occasionally he spoke in a low voice, and the captain answered, but Kynon could not make out the words.
The muscles in Kynon’s shoulders and thighs began to ache. He longed to change his position, but he didn’t dare. Instead, he bowed his head, closed his eyes, and wished he’d died on the battlefield. Anything rather than this.
“Rennick, fetch them.”
The captain crossed the floor, and Kynon felt the jerk of the chain on his collar as he was unchained.
“Stand,” said the captain, removing the chain from Alysia’s collar as well. He nodded toward Brasius. “Go and kneel before your master.”
Reluctantly, Kynon crossed the floor to the desk with Alysia at his side.
Every muscle in Kynon protested as he knelt again and clasped his hands behind his neck. His knees hurt.
He heard the door open and close again and realized the captain had left. They were alone with the warlord. Kynon chest swelled with hope. Could they overpower the man?
The warlord seemed to read his thoughts. “My army occupies this town. It could be ashes by tomorrow.”
Kynon bowed his head.
“Look here,” the warlord said. He was holding a piece of parchment before them. “Here are your names. Here is your king’s signature. You are the price of peace. Do you understand?”
“Yes, master,” Alysia whispered.
Kynon forced the words out from behind his clenched teeth. “Yes, master.”
Brasius took a piece of bread into his hands and tore a piece from it. He held it out to Alysia. “Open.”
Alysia parted her lips hesitantly, and Brasius pushed the bread inside her mouth. Then he held out a piece to Kynon.
Fed scraps like dogs, Kynon thought mutinously, but after so long in the tower, he was too hungry to refuse. His mouth watered, and his stomach growled again. The touch of Brasius’s fingers against his lips made his skin crawl, but he took what he was offered, and hoped for more.
“Are you hungry, my tributes?” Brasius said with a laugh. He held out a cup of wine. “Are you thirsty?”
Kynon felt the cup against his lips and cautiously tilted his head back to drink. It was wine, but there was no mistaking the added taste. It was the same stuff he’d been given after his whipping. Brasius angled the cup quickly, and wine spilled down Kynon’s naked chest and dribbled down to his groin. He almost choked, and struggled not to wrench himself away as Brasius forced him to drink.
He gasped for breath as he watched Alysia undergo the same treatment. She could not drink fast enough either; her throat and breasts glistened with wine, and Kynon’s cock twitched.
Brasius rose and walked around behind them.
Alysia cried out as the warlord pulled her to her feet and then turned and pushed her onto the desk. He arranged her so that she was lying back with her buttocks and legs hanging over the desk. She clenched her hands into fists and closed her eyes as she began to cry.
The warlord pulled his shirt over his head. His body was lean and muscular and not unscathed by battle. His shoulders were broad, but his torso tapered down to a waist that was narrow. He carried no spare flesh. He was a man who led his armies from the front. He unfastened his belt and let it fall to the floor and then removed his leggings.
Kynon’s eyes widened as he saw the warlord’s hard cock. It was large, surely too large. It was long and thick, the swollen head dark with blood, and rampant. Brasius took it in one hand, and with the other, he reached forward and opened Alysia.
“Hera says you are a virgin,” he said. “Relax your muscles.”
From his position on the floor, Kynon couldn’t see what the warlord was doing with his hand, but Alysia twisted back and forth on the table. “No, please, no!”
“Did you read your name on the charter?” the warlord demanded. “Did you?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“And will you obey your king by giving me your consent?”
“Yes.” It was no louder than a breath.
Kynon didn’t want to watch Alysia’s humiliation, but he couldn’t make himself look away. He wanted to be sick, and he didn’t know if it was too much wine on an empty stomach or something else. Why couldn’t he look away?
When he was sixteen, he had fantasized about Alysia, trying to imagine what her naked body looked like underneath her modest dresses. He’d thought of her when he’d visited the whorehouses in the town, imagining the whores he paid were as pretty as her. Imagining it wasn’t a transaction. He’d thought of her like this as well, naked in the daylight, her legs apart. Except he’d imagined he was the man standing between them.
And so, he thought with shock, had Alysia.
She hadn’t been crying in his fantasies. Ashamed, Kynon still couldn’t look away as he saw the tendons in Brasius’s arm tighten as he moved his hand between Alysia’s legs.
Brasius released his cock and reached for the jug of wine on the table. He held it above Alysia and then tipped it slowly and deliberately over her body. When the liquid hit her flesh, Alysia arched her spine upward in surprise, and her eyes flashed open. They widened as Brasius leaned forward to taste the wine.
Kynon felt his cock throb as Brasius lowered his mouth onto Alysia’s small breast. Alysia gasped as the warlord’s lips closed around her nipple. She opened her fists into trembling fingers. Brasius tasted one breast and then the other, and all the while his hand was working away somewhere between her thighs.
“Please,” Alysia managed, but the sound died away in a murmur.
Kynon saw the moment that she began to respond. She arched her spine again, and she opened her knees wider.
Brasius pushed his cock into her. She whimpered, and he twisted her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Then he began to thrust.
Kynon couldn’t take his eyes off Alysia. Her pale skin, stained with wine, flushed slowly with heat. She lifted herself from the desk, pushing her shoulders back as the warlord again lowered his mouth toward her breast. Kynon saw her gasp, and he realized the warlord had used his teeth on her sensitive flesh. Kynon’s cock twitched.
Brasius stood upright. He gripped Alysia’s hips and pulled her farther off the desk, impaling her totally on his massive cock. Then he hooked his arms under her knees, and she gasped as he began to thrust more rapidly. She writhed on the desk, her hands fluttering.
“Come for me, girl,” the warlord growled, and Alysia arched her back and shuddered. She gripped the edges of the desk tightly as she came and cried out.
Kynon almost came at the ragged sound of it.
Brasius pulled out, his cock red and still engorged. He was breathing heavily, and his muscular body shone with sweat. He turned his face to Kynon. “Hands and knees, boy, now.”
His stomach churning, his heart pounding, Kynon obeyed. This was the price of peace, he told himself. If he did this, nobody else in Caralis had to die.
“Give me your consent,” Brasius demanded.
Kynon didn’t answer. Fear overwhelmed him. He couldn’t do this. He wasn’t strong enough to do this. He understood the mechanics, or supposed he did. His experience with women was limited enough. The only things he knew about the sexual act between two men had been gleaned from dirty jokes and snide insults. They weren’t funny now. Every instinct told him this would hurt like hell.
“Your consent,” Brasius repeated.
Kynon squeezed his eyes shut. “My silence is my consent!”
“Not good enough!”
Kynon steeled himself. There was no price too high to safeguard the crown. Nobody else had to die. He said through clenched teeth, “Yes.”