King Rafe is subjected to a curse that will cause him, or rather a certain part of him, to become a monster, and his lover and mage-advisor Will is understandably conflicted about this turn of events.
But as I hurried from the king’s chamber and ran down the narrow castle back corridor, my long flat bare feet smacking on the cold stone, I was waylaid before I even got to the narrow spinal stairs that led down to the rear foundations—not by any agents of evil, or by the dark magic of Loren of Presshe, mind you, but by an 18-year-old boy.
Mind you, it wasn’t just any 18-year-old boy. This was Darek son of Drake, scion of the most powerful family in Shap outside the royals. In fact a branch of their line held the throne, the loremasters say, long, long ago, before it passed to Rafe’s family in a long-forgotten civil war. The result was that Darek’s family wasn’t royal—they just acted like it. He was deeply involved in the politics of the kingdom too, even including himself in the train of Rafe’s recent procession.
Either way, ancestry aside, he stood in my way, directly in the middle of the hallway. I pulled up short, nearly tumbling into him—I hadn’t seen him at first in the windowless passage, weakly lit as it was by a few flickering torches.
“You’ve just come from the king, I see,” Darek said haughtily, eyeing my bare feet and open, flying jacket over no shirt with interest. He was one to talk: Darek was almost always drilling in the marshals’ field, practicing the hundred different military skills he had at his command, and so was seldom seen outside state banquets wearing more than what he had on now: a short, loose pair of breeches and nothing else.
He smiled as I took in his sculpted torso, which had blossomed in recent years with muscle both hard and generous, and smiled, stepping closer to me. Darek made no secret that he considered me, even though I was 10 months his senior, as one of the “privileges” that ought to be accorded the second-most-noble man of the realm as equally as the first. I had rebuffed his advances—politely—more times than I could count.
I chafed—my plans had gone astray and my majesty’s “majesty” was already quite out of hand. I almost felt like I could sense the thick, armlike organ in the chamber down he hall behind me, growing and throbbing and pulsing with restless magic with every heartbeat, my lover staring at it in panicked awe, while far away, in a distant land, a cunning apprentice-mage of a king was laughing at his handiwork.
“I am sorry, my lord, I must attend to an urgent matter,” I said, and I attempted to step around him. But my tall and unusually broad-shouldered accoster easily blocked my way. And now his face was very close. It was comely—all the nobles of Shap were beautiful, and Darek was twice as beautiful as any (but Rafe, of course): sharp features, bright eyes, perfect lips. I found myself momentarily distracted.
“What services to you provide for the king?” he said softly.
I glanced directly into his eyes, startled. “What are you asking, my lord?” I whispered. I suddenly realized his large, strong, smooth hand was on my narrow, naked waist, inside my jacket. I felt myself shiver unaccountably.
“He has been getting stronger lately,” Darek explained, still in a soft, sweet voice. “And his sword has always been the biggest in the land.”
“I didn’t ensorcel him,” I said softly, matching his voice. His face was inches away. “He’s well blessed by nature.”
He looked at me shrewdly. “I know all the swords in the kingdom. And the king’s was vaster yestereve than it was a fortnight ago.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken, my lord,” I said, but my voice wavered.
“Shall we go see? You know by long tradition I can be admitted at any time,” he added, his eyes flickering just for a second down the hall behind me, before fixing themselves again on mine.
I had no answer. As he spoke again his lips were literally brushing against mine, moving softly across them as they turned and twisted, making me think in turn of how close his tongue was to mine as it danced and curled around his words. The gossamer touch of his lips, and the hint I could just feel of the soft bristle of his unshaven chin, aroused me suddenly and thoroughly, and I shuddered again against his unmovable iron hand, which was now resting against the small of my back under the jerkin.
I barely registered what he actually said with those lips, but when I did I was genuinely alarmed: “I want you,” he breathed, “to do for me as you did for his majesty.”
“My lord,” I whispered, my lips now brushing his in their turn, “you are already big—and strong—and beautiful.”
“Yes,” hissed Darek, adding in an admission he would only have made under these exact circumstances, seducing the court mage: “But my sword is not.” I had seen Darek bathe after exercise and on campaign—nature had not been as overgenerous with him as it had with me, though Darek’s, if anything, was proportionately wide for its smaller size; but we all suffered in comparison to his royal manhood, even before Loren’s mischievous spell.
And as if to seal his hold on me Darek pushed his sweet lips a hair’s breadth closer to mine, all that was needed for us to actually kiss. I closed my eyes for a moment, realizing as I did so that something was … amiss. Darek and I had never kissed—I had never let him get this close. But his kiss, though brief, was sweet.
When my eyes opened they were unfocused, which, in a stroke of irony, made all clear to me. With my unfocused eyes I could see what my focused eyes (and heart) could not: Darek had been subjected to a spell. I could see it, like the ghost of a tiny red ribbon, twisting through the shadowy contours of his mind like a smoky tendril that was once the extremity of some great root.
I saw it all now. Loren hadn’t just put a spell on Rafe—he’d perceived Darek’s potent, longstanding desire for myself, and spelled him, I read from the shape and twists of the wisp of ribbon, to be irresistible to me and me alone. This was just like Loren—a ploy to keep me busy and distracted, so I’d be slow to stop Rafe turning into a “monster.” Probably Darek didn’t even know he was bewitched.
I felt my resolve harden. Loren had underestimated me again. My skills, and my love for Rafe.
Summoning all my years of training I emasculated Loren’s spell, and felt my compulsive attraction to Darek drain away like blood from a dead hare. But a new plan had already formed. Darek’s lust for me would be as useful to me as it was supposed to have been to Loren. I kept my position and repeated our sweet kiss, this time for my own purposes.
“So you want to receive the spell that has been increasing his majesty’s endowment?” I whispered, endeavoring to sound seductive.
Darek was sure he had me. “I insist on it,” he said, his dark blue eyes glinting.
My eyes, I am sure, glinted back. I pretended to agonize for a moment, then uttered, barely audible:
“So be it.”
I could tell he was trying to reign in an expression of triumph, but I was staring deep into his eyes and missed nothing. I smiled, which he took to be the smile of one enraptured. Then I said one thing more: “Come with me,” and, turning slightly so his arm was around my waist and mine around his shoulders, I guided him toward the rear spiral staircase that led down, down, down to my dungeon laboratory where would receive the gift he sought—and more, much more.
As soon as Will left, Rafe climbed out of his vast four-poster bed and, naked and impossibly aroused, itching with anxiety, started pacing his sprawling chambers, his shapely bare feet barely noticing the soft comfort of the expensive, deeply woven rugs that kept them from feeling the cold stone of the chamber floor. As he paced he instinctively hugged his enormous manhood to his bare, hard-muscled chest, his arms clasping its warmth to him as he grasped his own biceps in each hand. It probably wasn’t necessary; he knew from experience that his bone was naturally so stiff and rigid that it had barely moved when he walked around even before it had started growing: Will liked to joke that his “soldier” was never “at ease”. But he’d always enjoyed its pleasant, hard, radiant heat being pressed firmly against his groin and his tight, defined stomach by whatever he wore around his waist, whether it be the drawstring of the loose trousers he wore when he was alone with Will (when he wore anything at all) or a tautly cinched swordbelt. And now… his chest-high pillar was stiffer than a stone pillar and just as unyielding, yet it radiated reassuring warmth so easily and unstoppably it was like basking in the summer sun.
His monstrous bone responded to the embrace with enthusiasm and gratitude, of its own accord thrusting up somewhat into the tight space between Rafe’s crossed forearms and his almost-hairless, training-thickened chest. Though he refused to look down he felt a huge surge of the lubricating pre-ejaculate his organ produced so prodigiously erupt impatiently from his bone’s impressive aperture, and the accompanying wave of pleasure nearly dropped Rafe to his knees. He staggered, finding his feet only by leaning his bare ass and back against one of the bedposts. He tilted his head back against the ornately sculpted oak, breathing deeply as the wave of erotic pleasure slowly subsided. Had his sensitivity and the magnitude of stimulation grown apace with the monstrous increase in his organ? If a simple thrust almost felled him with pleasure, how could he endure an orgasm?
Yet even as these thoughts swirled in the king’s disquieted mind, his baser thoughts shifted to Will. He imagined himself pushing into Will, shoving his enormous organ deep inside him, filling Will more literally than he had ever done before. It was impossible—he knew it was impossible. Even when he’d come back from the procession, he’d worried he was too large for his beloved Will, and they would lose one of their most precious shared pleasures. He was so much larger now. He hugged the offending prodigy hard against him, ignoring its need to push, to shove, to feel the the explosive stimulation of ass, of mouth, of hands, of tongues… He would never be able to do what he most desired in this moment, to be inside Will completely, his pale groin pressing hard against Will’s buttocks as he spread them with a crotch-bone the size of half an arm. Mother earth, he needed that. He needed Will.
And yet, came a devious stray thought from some unfathomed corner of his skull, what was it Will always said, with arched brow and an adorable twinkle in his amazing eyes? Will had said it on more than one occasion, when Rafe had questioned his lover’s stamina or, back at the beginning of their boyish explorations, his ability to take Rafe’s original tremendous size. “You forget,” Will would say with twinkling eyes: “You address a mage.”
His bone, far from being stilled by its tighter confines as he squeezed himself harder, exalted in the hotter, closer quarters. It shoved up again against his embrace, and he felt with overelevated sensitivity the rough texture of the sparse hairs between his smooth, firm pectorals and along his corded forearms. Rafe gasped, and another gout of warm, thin pre-ejaculate spurted forcefully from its wide, sensitive slit and began trickling down the blood-dark, monstrous head and hot, veiny shaft, so that when his organ relentlessly shoved up again without any direction from him the dangerously enhanced pleasure that overcame him deepened even more, thanks to his bone’s own devious self-lubrication. An unstoppable moan escaped him, and he shut his eyes, the back of his head pressed against the wood of the sturdy bedpost. He knew he should release his arms, should deprive his eager organ of the slowly slickening, hot and deliciously tight passage he had created for it. He should release himself, if only because he wanted this to be Will.
Will. A rush of love cascaded through him. Will was his, and only his. Reluctantly, eyes closed and head back, he let himself start to slowly, forcefully squeezing through the tight gap between his rigidly clasped arms and a hard chest now sheened with his sweet secretions and fine, emerging sweat, thrusting, fucking, and as the ecstasy filled him, rising and ebbing and overfilling him without surcease he thought of Will, only of Will—of sharing his adoration and passion with him, of entering him, of himself pushed hot and impossibly deep inside his gorgeous man, being in him, filling him, one with him, monstrous organ and all—one with the amazing, heart-wrenching, effortlessly enchanting love of his life.
From his hiding place in the false-backed second wardrobe Elias watched his king gratify his own newly monstrous organ with something like religious awe. In all his years sneaking through forgotten, secret passages, first revealed to him through boyish curiosity and an innate, uncanny knack for finding what was hidden and perceiving what was not meant to be seen, he’d never known a greater joy than on that summer’s eve two years before when his nosing round dark and cramped passages untouched by any but mice in what seemed like centuries led him first to a steep and twisting stair and then to a narrow door that almost wouldn’t budge, only to open, when forced, into a huge, cluttered, disused wardrobe—in the dark back corner of Prince Rafael’s very bedchamber! He’d stared captivated through a small panel in the wardrobe’s side, hidden from the outside by a sheer painted silk that Elias guessed formed decorative side panels for the heavy, solid cabinet, and caught his first unguarded glimpse of the man who so dominated Elias’s thoughts and much of his life.
His obsession with the prince’s arresting beauty and with his endowment, which was both widely rumored and obvious no matter his attire, had led Elias to abandon his uncle’s farm and gravitate to the royal city after a single glimpse of the prince, who was touring his village with his now-dead parents, the king and queen; had driven him to join the guards and discover, to his shock, a love of physical training almost matching his yearning for the beautiful prince; had pushed him to find any way possible to get closer to his beloved Rafe, leading to the sublime discovery of a veritable lost warren of confined, lightless, wholly unknown, and exceedingly useful clandestine passages that let him learn the habits of the prince, now the king, and secretly be with the object of desire whenever he liked, which amounted to every moment he was not training, eating, or sleeping—and if it came to that, there had been more than one lonely night when Elias, unwilling to pry himself from his beloved, silently fed on bread and cheese in the second wardrobe and even curled up to sleep among the dusty blankets and ancient robes on the floor of the old wardrobe itself.
That day of discovery, and all the days in between in which he’d squeezed through those narrow channels between the walls, his way becoming more difficult as he grew taller and stronger, was long past. He’d attained a measure and stature enviable by all but the young marshals, the likes of thick-thewed and perfectly sculpted Darek Drakeson always maintaining the nobility’s ancestral edge in brawn and beauty alike. There were many, Elias knew, who pined for Lord Darek especially, townswomen and fellow guards alike watching him in distant, respectful clusters as he ceaselessly drilled himself in the marshals’ field, alone or with one of the other nobles, naked save for the short, dark breeches that were his signature attire; but Elias, even now, after living in the heart of a capital city bristling with beautiful men, had eyes only for one man. These days his grown-up mind tickled with troubling thoughts: that his youthful obsession should have been outgrown by now; that his love was sterile because it was and would always be separated, from without. There was an eternal barrier between them, whether he was in the king’s wardrobe, staring unseen through a scrim from a forgotten corner, or standing mere feet from his radiant majesty on parade, one royal defender among hundreds, the king and Elias both clad alike in well-polished military dress. And Elias was not without options in his own world: there were a few who had let him know his fair, sultry looks and loose, platinum locks were well appreciated, and he even knew that one of his comrades-in-arms, the bright-eyed, sweet-smiling Roger of Guem, was waiting for Elias—waiting for him to come to his senses and live a normal life, and love in a normal fashion where being in the presence of one’s love progressed to the embrace, the kiss, the sharing of a bed and a life and a love that that made two men one. Elias knew these things in his mind; he had no illusions at all: he had always been clear-eyed and insightful even about himself, unlocking his own mysteries as easily as a hidden door or a loremaster’s puzzle-box. But for now, at least, it did not matter. His heart was pure, and it was in the king’s keeping; and his feet took him where they willed, each fading eve after long drills and simple fare leading him up the steep and secret stairs to the sanctuary of the king.
In his brief career as the king’s shadow he’d seen many things, of course. Most of all, he had seen the star around which Rafe himself turned: Will, his chamberlain and lifelong best friend. He’d known of Will from the moment he’d come to the capital: it was common knowledge that as boys Will and Rafe had been inseparable, and now that they’d matured to manhood their bond had only strengthened. As Elias wormed his way closer to the then-prince and future king it became obvious that this bond was even more amorous than the public was aware. What had once been boyish play had evolved and deepened into passion and singular, unparalleled devotion, expressed whenever they were alone in laughing bouts of vigorous, naked wrestling or achingly ardent lovemaking or nights and afternoons spent wrapped comfortable around each other. As Elias had watched, their connection had in anything intensified, and when Prince Rafael, a younger son who had never expected to rule, found himself unexpectedly on the throne before he had even left his teenage years, he’d proclaimed his love for all to hear and let it be know that there would be no suitors for the king’s hand, as it already belonged to Willem Owinson, Chamberlain Royal, and that on their turning their twentieth year there would be a royal wedding unsurpassed in living memory.
Elias searched himself often for signs of jealousy toward Will, the love of the king’s life and his constant avid companion and enthusiastic lover, and was continually surprised to find he harbored none. His awareness that Will was no rival for him, because the king existed in a world he could not truly enter, was keen and clear and as uncontestable as the sun in the sky or the ceaseless song of the Red River rolling through the hills behind the royal city. But there was more to it than that. Elias saw that Rafe, the king, lived and breathed his love for his boyhood friend and lifelong lover. Will was the light in the king’s eye; he was there in the king’s broad smile and the glow of his beauty. Even when Will was not present Elias could see that the king’s compassion was enhanced by Will’s love; his vigor and zeal on the training field was fed by it; his sagacity had an edge to it that was Will’s regard and pride. Elias saw clearly from the first that what had drawn him to Rafe was not merely Rafe himself, but Rafe-who-loves-Will. That man, who loved and was loved by Will, was the man who held Elias’s heart, whose beauty entranced him. Without Will, there would be no Rafe—not, at least, the Rafe that was Elias’s beloved.
And there was one thing more that added new layers to Elias’s peculiar relationship with the king and his lover. Though it was known to none but the highest nobles, and both the king and his chamberlain took pains to prevent any from finding out, Elias had seen for himself that Willem Owinson was no mere mortal, but was in fact a secret mage—a member of an ancient order of sorcerers thought to have long since died out in Shap. Magic was not unknown in these lands; self-proclaimed hedge wizards made nuisances of themselves at the occasional public festival, and Elias’s uncle had one had recourse to an allegedly magic infusion when nothing else would assuage a sudden outbreak of violent flatulence among his hitherto well-behaved sheep and cattle. (Elias suspected the malady had been orchestrated by the same hedge-wizard who sold his uncle the remedy, but his uncle was not one to willingly believe in the ill intent of others.) From his unique position secreted in the monarchy’s very bosom Elias knew many things known to none but a very few, from the peccadillos of grayed and grizzled barons to the unheralded charity of Rafe’s adolescent cousin Kein, who though still just a boy tended to spend his afternoons bringing parcels of food to homebound grandmothers and stiff-jointed gaffers; but the prize piece of information, known beyond the king’s bedchamber only by three or four nobles of royal lineage (such as Darek Drakeson), was that the king’s friend and chamberlain was a secret asset for the protection of Rafe and the venerable and verdant kingdom of Shap.
Knowing that Will was a mage had at first alarmed Elias. He’d waited anxiously for Will to turn from his lovemaking to sudden peer directly at Elias in his hiding place, his arts or some second sight laying him bare, exposing him where normal eyes could not. He’d even had a moment of fright once, early on, when Will had opened his eyes during a passionate embrace with the king and had seemed to look directly at him. For a single second Will’s bright eyes had pierced him like an arrow, or so he’d thought. But the mage had turned away, resuming his ministrations to the king’s exquisite neck, and Elias had quieted his racing heart. He could not have seen him—would he not have marched over to the wardrobe, exposing him for the king to see, a humiliation worse than death? Whatever skills the chamberlain had, they must not include perception beyond the mortal, and Elias slowly forgot his fear, indulging in the pleasure that came from his beloved’s consummate beauty being evoked and transformed by the intense, erotic intimacy of the king and his lover.
Elias had seen other things, too. He’d taken note of the old chancellor’s subtly concealed scorn for the young monarch, matched and exceeded by the brasher contempt of the chancellor’s truculent son, Gareth, and had beamed with pride at Rafe’s perceptive mistrust of both father and son and the covert measures Elias had seen the king take to protect himself from sabotage and betrayal. On the recent royal procession, which Elias had marched with as a member of the guard-elite, second only to the marshals’ patrol in popular prestige and standing with the king, he had observed the weight of some unknown burden suddenly taking hold of Rafe the moment he’d emerged from his unscheduled audience with Loren, the trouble-making Crown Prince of Presshe: he had learned something grim in that meeting, and on the march home the king had been disturbed and silent.
Indeed, as he stood here now, agape, his own long, thick member hot and hard and shuddering in his hands at the sight of the king reaching climax with an organ of such impossible magnitude as to inflame any stallion with the deepest envy, the part of Elias’s brain not given over to rapture at the intoxicating beauty of the sight before him made the necessary connection between that ominous moment during the procession and Elias’s unique knowledge that master sorcerers still practiced their craft in the royal sanctum. Before his consciousness flooded with an ecstasy beyond any he’d given himself in this wardrobe watching the king, before he exploded silently, painting once more the sturdy wood panels with his generous gouts of white-hot seed, his fertile mind formed a single idea that explained both the king’s transformation and its portent for the kingdom of Shap: Another sorcerer. Crown Prince Loren, though far away in the fabled Unbreakable Keep at the heart of the ancient coastal principality of Presshe, though generally reckoned as little more than a grudge-bearing loud-mouth and a chronic saber-rattler, was in fact a more dangerous enemy than any knew—any, that is, but the king, his lover, and his secret shadow, Elias himself.
Loren crouched in the corner of the empty, abandoned manor and peered into the broad earthenware basin on the floor before him, watching the reflection in the water not of his own stooping form but of the lithe back and broad shoulders of the Shappian king’s mage chamberlain, Willem Owinson, descending a gloomy, curving stairwell into the bowels of the castle. That he would shortly reveal his secret sanctum to that fool Darek, and so to Loren watching through his eyes, Loren was calmly certain. Like Rafael before him, this Willem had fallen into his trap, undoing the obvious love charm that Loren had put on the hapless, if comely, marshal and completely missing the tiny second-eyes spell he’d secreted deep in a corner of Darek’s mind. Everything was proceeding to plan.
Loren glanced up, out the window of his empty, borrowed demesne. From where he hunched over the basin he had an excellent view of the glistening keep of the citadel of Shap, its white stone painted blood red with the fading sunset. He had only to wait. Soon, Shap would be his—and King Rafael with it.
My pulse thrummed fast and steady as I stood before the concealed stone door that led into the secret dungeon laboratory of the Fell Mage of Shap—myself. Anyone in the kingdom would snort with disbelief at the thought of the nineteen-year-old stripling Willem Owinson, smart-mouthed son and successor to the most libertine chamberlain Shap had ever known, having somehow clandestinely become the lore-steeped heir to a long-lost and half-forgotten line of mountain-shifting, dragon-taming Sorcerers Supreme, the magical heroes of myth and ancient legend. I hardly believed it myself. And mother earth help me if a shrieking, sky-filling dragon wheeled into Shap and began roasting the battlements, as had once befallen another King’s Mage before me a hundred generations back, or so the lorebooks told. And his solution—well, I would never have tried singing the entire forty cantos of the Ode of Geruntaa to lull a massive, fire-breathing drake into friendly submission.
Certainly the ancient and lurid tale of Mage Tuok and the Humble Dragon (Who Became Very Good Friends Afterward, But Let’s Not Get Into That) was of little use to me in that moment. I had my own Drake to tame, and singing him land-founding Odes would only make this one curl his lip in a sneer. Even with my back to him I could feel every inch of the handsome, powerfully attractive Darek Drakeson behind me as if he really were a being of ancient screed like the Worms his father was named for. Darek’s eager breath gusted hotly across my neck as he stood close and ready, and in the cool, stone-hewn passage well beneath the sprawling keep the radiant warmth of his barely clothed body—barely a finger’s breadth from mine—seeped insidiously through my thin bedchamber garments and into my very skin. I could feel his gaze, too: Darek was urgent and keen in his approaching victory, and his heated stare drank in everything I did.
I closed my eyes, drew a slow breath, and silent-spoke the ancient unlocking spell and my own password—a countersign known to none, not even Rafe, though Rafe would certainly be amused if he knew it. With a satisfying clunk the bolt released, and the outline of the secret door revealed itself.
“Blood and iron,” the young marshal behind me hissed softly. My role as mage and realm’s protector was a closely guarded secret, so I almost never had the opportunity to show someone magic for the first time. Even Darek, aware of my status and abilities thanks to the dusty bronze-carved law that required the sharing of all state secrets with both lord and scion of his almost-royal clan, had never seen me work a spell—not until today. And knowing a thing and seeing it were, as I well knew myself, very different things.
Darek’s reaction heartened me. A little awe, however grudging, might just help my hasty plan. I could only hope. My thoughts flicked to Rafe, high above me in his sunlit chamber. What was he doing now? I suppressed a smile. There was no need to wonder. My own manhood twitched and swelled at the though of my lover’s chest-high, arm-thick, red-blushed bone, and the thrills of uncomplicated, irresistible pleasure that shuddered through my royal fuck-partner at the slightest stroke of hand or tongue to his hot, hard, desperately needy monolith.
“How does it release?” Darek whispered, almost to himself. Shocked, I wrenched my straying thoughts back to my surroundings, pulse stuttering for a briefest second before I realized. Mother earth, he meant the door. I drew in shaky breath, almost allowing myself a laugh, and retrained my attention on the entrance to my secret dungeon.
Well, it was a fair question, I thought. The newly-outlined door sported no handle or mechanism; the broad expanse outlined by the now-revealed door-shaped gap seemed to be nothing but blank stone like the rest of the corridor’s torch-flicked walls.
Solemnly, I raised a hand and pressed it firmly against the stone door. “In the name of Geruntaa!” I intoned. Then I gave the door a hard push, and it ground open easily on well-oiled hinges into the secret chamber beyond.
Darek snorted. Cleary he was aware I’d had a little joke with him, but he followed me into the chamber anyway without protest.
I strode confidently into the center of the darkened space and pressed my hand to the hemispherical mage-lamp that sat in the very center of my oversized work-bench, in actuality a minor banquet table stolen from a disused reception hall. At my touch the enchanted crystal awoke, filling the room with gentle, sifting red-orange light drawn directly from the primordial fires burning ceaselessly far beneath the earth itself. Darek’s sharp intake of breath behind me was as loud as a shout in the silent room.
For all the arcane and deadly secrets hidden in the underground lair of my distant predecessors reaching back into unknown ages before the known history of Shap and its protectorates, most of it between the pages of thick, obscurely inked tomes I had made it my business to study and learn, the mage-lamp was the oldest and deepest magic in the whole of the chamber. It was what had brought me here, a young boy of ten suddenly pulled from a wrestling match with Rafe by a tugging somewhere behind my heart guiding me from the marshals’ yards into the keep and down, deep below, into the citadel tunnels, into a secret chamber that had lain unknown and unopened for four hundred years.
My touch had revealed the door and awoken the crystal artifact that had lured me to that place, and by this I learned, much to my surprise, that I was a sorcerer—as did Rafe, who of course had excitedly followed me into the bowels of the citadel, chattering the whole way about rumors of feral wolves and spiders the size of your head that were supposed to inhabit the lower tunnels, and who now gaped at me in open, enthusiastic amazement before hugging me tight, discerning before I had that we had finally discovered that which I had always craved: a way to fight for Shap and stand beside Rafe. I would never be a swordsman, or a master trader, or a diplomat—but as mage I could be a secret boon to Rafe and his father and elder brother, the champions of our beloved kingdom.
Since then I’d learned everything I could. One of my earliest efforts had been building a new spell to once again conceal the doorway revealed by a simple touch of my magic, one of the many ways I kept what I did hidden from all except Rafe—and, unavoidably, Drake, high marshal and lord of the protectorate of Eradh, and his irrepressible son, Darek, member of the marshal-elite, lord-heir of Eradh, and dream of a thousand swooning maids and lusty soldiers. Or perhaps, I thought as I turned to face him, it was lusty maids and swooning soldiers. It was the guards who fell hardest for Darek’s young, hard-sculpted warrior physique, and considering him now as he stood in my sepulchral lair, bathed in subtly shifting red-orange earthfire, it was not hard to see why. He looked like a statue to Warlike Prowess, his deft, fluid agility as evident from his stance as his raw muscular strength and his peerless good looks. Making him irresistible had doubtless been the simplest of spells: all Loren had needed to do was focus the unwary victim on the unvarnished truth of his incomparable and utterly masculine beauty.
Darek knew the effect he had on others, and my appreciative gaze steadied him in an unfamiliar environment. He took a step toward me, closing the distance between us. Red earthfire washed over his training-thickened, hairless chest, his broad, alluring shoulders, and his exquisite, fascinating features. His dark blue eyes bore into mine, lustful and calculating all at once. “You will not break your word,” he said quietly, and his low, soft speech was almost commanding enough to have the force of magic. He moved an inch closer and added, “Will you, Mage?”
Perhaps he thought he could make me forget Rafe, as he had no doubt begun making others forget their lovers and partners throughout the kingdom, as his father had been doing for decades, simply from their beauty alone. Perhaps, if I had not quenched the spell I’d discovered squirreled away inside this handsome lordling, I almost might have. But it did not matter. Darek needed no spell.
To sell my beguilement, though, I stroked his cheek, briefly brushing my teeth over my lower lip as I did so. “Be assured, my lord,” I said truthfully, “I will give to you exactly what you ask.”
Darek dropped heavily into his preferred corner spot at the Guardsman’s Respite, ignoring the glances aimed his way from the various knots of off-duty guards half-filling the tavern. Darek always attracted attention wherever he went, and not all of it friendly. “If you covered your chest every once in a while,” his father had once tsked in exasperation, but Darek knew better. He drew the gaze of every man and woman no matter where he went. He might as well dress as he liked.
Anyway, his beauty was his saving grace, he thought morosely as he exchanged nods with the tavernkeeper. Thickly built and thickly mustached, Rahun was an ex-guard who liked to joke that keeping a rowdy saloon gave him more and better chances to put his hand-to-hand combat skills to good use than sentry duty at the citadel gates had ever done. Rahun was handsome enough and had more than his share of ladies when he wanted, but Darek knew he was more pleasing to the average eye. Bitterly aware as he was that it was his uncanny good looks that helped distract and compensate for the less-than-impressive gift between his legs when it came to making his sexual partners happy, Darek was grateful to mother earth for every extra helping of handsome sauce she’d poured on him in the womb.
A queasy thrill roiled behind his flat, tightly carved belly as he remembered: all that was about to change. Whatever spell had been been worked to set the king’s sword growing since he’d returned from the procession, now Willem and that hideous concoction he’d made Darek drink had given it to him. And rightly so. Darek truly had no beef with Rafael personally, rival though he was for Willem’s attentions. Rafael was pleasant company and a passable ruler, though naturally it went without saying that Rafael’s clan of usurpers should be booted out of Shap as soon as the people and the nobles—and, yes, the marshals and guards—could be persuaded from their blind and devoted loyalty. But surely Rafael was gifted enough! Magically growing the king’s manhood was like deciding Darek wasn’t handsome enough, or Willem insufficiently kissable.
Darek swallowed. A kiss! He’d managed to steal a kiss from Willem. His undersized but always ready prick stiffened quickly to full and painful hardness as Darek relived the moment. The man who flaunted his fathomless, eternal love for the king at every chance had kissed him, right there on the stairs that wound down from the king’s very chambers. Darek dared not allow himself a sliver of hope, and yet…
Rahun thumped a large tankard of the better ale on the sturdy, well-polished round table in front him, its pocks and scrapes of a thousand customers smoothed and muted by careful attention over many years. Rahun hovered, not leaving immediately, and Darek looked up and met the man’s dark gray eyes.
“There’s good mutton stew tonight, if you’d rather eat here than the mess,” Rahun suggested. Darek nodded, offering him a rare smile. Rahun didn’t know the exact reasons Darek avoided the guards’ mess for the evening meal, but he’d sussed that Darek would rather be here in the Guardsman’s Respite than there, and Darek was duly grateful. One of the causes was probably not difficult to discern, anyway: it was no secret that his lordly father, Lord Drake of Eradh, was rigid and unforgiving, with his son as with all other things. It made rather a sardonic joke of one of his official titles, The King’s Sword—it would be too close a bet to judge which was the more rigid, not that anyone had ever or would ever dare suggest to Lord Drake that he bore a distinct resemblance in manner and unyieldingness to the king’s gigantic and notoriously unflagging cockstand.
No sooner had Darek taken a long draft of his richly bitter ale than the other reason he avoided the evening mess plunked into the chair opposite. “Good day, cousin,” said Gareth Eronson, the ill-tempered son of the scheming, eternally morose chancellor, Eron of Erqar.
Darek grimaced. “It was,” he said. He took another quaff of his ale, glad of the distraction. If it hadn’t been there, there would have been nothing for him to do but glower at the chancellor’s son, and Darek would really rather not bother. Gareth was the only man in the kingdom with a claim to beauty surpassing Darek’s—apart from the king and his chamberlain, of course (most forgot to include him, but Darek never would). But half of Darek’s beauty was his surpassing fitness, the grace and reflexes that came from constant, laborious training. Gareth was pretty, more concerned the softness of his richly colored auburn hair than the hardness of his body. Darek, at least, needed no perfume but his own scent to captivate the objects of desire—and today, he reminded himself, even Willem had proved it.
“Jackal’s teeth,” Gareth swore, though his famous irritability seemed strangely feigned. He continued with a silkiness that belied his words: “Do you not have a piss-drop’s worth of gratitude in you? I was the one who tipped you off to a certain person’s… special circumstances,” he added, lowering his voice conspiratorially. He made to grab for Darek’s tankard, but a steely glare made him pull back his hand and instead turn and use to it to signal the tavernkeeper.
Darek mulled this over. What Gareth said was true—he had told Darek about the king’s growth spell, which Darek had then confirmed through careful observation of the Rafael’s training sessions, which he had the charge of owing to both position and expertise. There was no doubt the spell was thanks to Willem, whom none knew was also a mage but him and his father. Did the chancellor know as well? That would explain Gareth seemingly being aware that high-level magic practitioners still even existed in Shap, at least to the extent of a growth spell even being possible—though it was Darek that had made the connection with Willem. Gareth had never spoken Willem’s name that Darek could recall, and Darek was very cognizant of any attention aimed Willem’s way. But Chancellor Eron was one of those close-minded grumps who proclaimed magic, fornication, and ale were all tools of the Underlord. And his best friend was Darek’s father, Lord Drake. If he knew Willem was a mage, why not expose him and use it to unseat the royal clan? Unless… Gareth had been hinting for months that the regime’s days were numbered. Was Willem’s status as a mage at the heart of their plan?
But that problem was secondary to an even more basic question: how had Gareth known that a spell had been performed on Rafael? When he’d asked him Gareth had answered only with a wink, and advised him to seek proof of his claim before trotting off.
Having gotten Rahun’s nod, Gareth turned back to Darek, eyeing him like a hungry cat. “Well? Aren’t you grateful to me for the help?” he asked, nodding toward Darek’s lap as if he could see his manhood through the table’s polished oaken planks.
Darek shifted in his seat, uncomfortable as always when his singular shortcoming was brought up. He was in fact still hard from thinking about the kiss, and thinking about it again made his manhood thrum with pleasure—and, Darek was sure, heft. Was it bigger? Already? Blood and iron, he should have asked Willem to details of the spell. How long would it take? How slowly did it grow? He thought he knew, from the careful observations he’d made during the four training sessions they’d had since his return, but… it really did feel bigger already. Thicker. Heavier. He met Gareth’s gaze—his cousin was smiling smugly.
Darek frowned, his suspicions mounting faster than the newly won growth in his cock. “How did you know I was successful?” he growled. Darek had cooked up the plan to confront Willem and demand the same gift. And yet… not Darek realized that Gareth’s sharing his knowledge of the spell with him served no purpose unless Gareth knew that Darek would then go to the mage.
Rahun set down Gareth’s tankard and Darek’s thick wooden bowl full of mutton stew and a wooden spoon between them. Gareth grinned wider as he took a long pull. “As if that were difficult to see,” Gareth said, wiping the foam from his mouth with his sleeve. “You were sitting here with a beatific smile on your face, as though you had discovered the lost trove of Uulua,” he said with a wink.
And now Gareth was lying, his usual smooth, leering tone having turned utterly unconvincing. Darek’s chest felt tight. Distracted by his own needs, Darek had stupidly let himself assume that Gareth’s only interest was in taking Rafael down a notch by giving him a rival between the legs at long last. But he had been a fool. It was so obvious now: whatever Gareth had planned, it wasn’t about Rafael. This plot, or this part of the plot, was had been aimed at Willem the whole time. His heart sank, but his guilt quickly submerged into a low, burning rage.
Gareth leaned forward greedily. “Did he take you down to his secret lair?” he asked. “Come now, you can tell me. What was it like? What did he say to you? What was the password spell to get in?”
Darek narrowed his eyes at his cousin. He was done with this. Whatever the fraught history between Darek’s clan and Rafael’s, Willem deserved no mistreatment. And would receive none. “Go to the Underlord,” he gritted out.
Undaunted, Gareth leaned forward just a bit more, his eyes blazing with intensity. “I said, ‘What was the password to get in?’” he insisted. “The mage must have spoken some secret word to evoke the door. Come now… you can tell me…”
Darek gritted his teeth. Something in him fought to obey, screamed at him he could tell Gareth this useless piece of information. But there was nothing to tell—if there had been a password to reveal the hidden door, Willem had not needed to speak it aloud, whatever Gareth thought. The strange urge died within him as quickly as it had arisen.
Darek rose to his feet, ignoring his oddly persistent erection and the stares of all the others. Snatching up his bowl of stew, he hurled the contents at Gareth, shouting, “And I said, Go to the Underlord!”
Gareth screamed—the stew must have been hotter than Darek had thought. Scrabbling at his scalded face, Gareth lost his balance and fell hard to the wooden floor, his chair clattering loudly behind him. All talking in the tavern ceased as everyone who hadn’t already done so turned to look. Darek towered over Gareth, his lips peeled back in contempt. He wanted to impart some threat, warning him and whoever he was in league with to stay away from Willem, but he quickly decided his actions had spoken for him—and if he articulated such a vow, he would risk betraying his love for Willem to Gareth and the whole tavern besides.
Wait—his ‘love’? Did he love Willem? He had always known he wanted Willem, lusted for him, but… blood and iron, he was worse served by the fates than he had ever dreamed. Lust he could sate with others, but to love unrequited the man whose heart was eternally in the king’s keeping… that was alike to the eternal torments of the Laughing God, the immortal once doomed to die in agony with every bite of venison, and who could yet eat only venison, and so repeated life, death, and life in endless misery, until his mind broke and he became a god of chaos.
Standing there over a seething Gareth, furious and impotent, knowing himself doomed, Darek almost thought he heard chaos calling to him. Setting aside the now-empty bowl he drew coins enough from his leather purse to cover his meal and the two ales, dropped them on the table, and nodded over at Rahun. The tavernkeeper was grinning from ear to ear under his thick mustache, his arms folded impassively across his burly chest. No one liked seeing Gareth Eronson get a comeuppance more than guardsmen, past or present, and indeed most of the faces of the men in the tavern were grinning as Darek turned on his heel and departed.
Loren fell back sputtering from his possession bond with Gareth, dropping on his own backside in a dark corner of the abandoned manor as he reflexively wiped nonexistent stew from his blessedly unmarred face with his long-fingered hands. “You impatient prince,” he castigated himself. He had not taken the young marshal, so physical in all his movements and needs, as also possessed of a shrewdness to match his brawny allure, and so had overplayed his hand. It did not help that he, in Gareth’s body, had found himself deeply drawn to Darek. Had Willem not undone the irresistibility spell after all, perhaps merely making himself immune but leaving it in place to affect others—even Loren? Or was Darek Drakeson truly that compellingly beautiful?
Loren slumped angrily against the corner walls. That made two mistakes today. He had relied upon the second-eyes spell he’d planted in the unsuspecting Darek through his equally unwitting tool, Gareth—only to fail to anticipate that Willem’s secret lair had a spoken password. And Darek had not seen him speak the words; indeed, it was almost as though Willem had not had to voice his spell at all, though of course that could not be the case. All spells were spoken. Who in the seven kingdoms possessed the mental strength and magical purity to conduct sorcery silently, speaking spells only within the inner spirit itself? Even his wizened mentors could not accomplish such magics.
Loren rubbed his chin, considering. He must remove Willem. The king’s chamberlain, lover, and secret mage was all that stood between him and the intricate plans he had for Rafael. But if Willem were more powerful than he seemed—
No. Willem was a boy. In the old days he would have barely become an adept by now: so Loren had been at Willem’s age in the Unspoken Ancient Sorceric Order of Presshe, of which none knew but those party to its mysteries. Now Loren was a hawk-level master, the first practitioner to come to the Presshian throne, and no mere lad of nineteen could stand against him, for all his posturing as man and mage.
He rose and went about the manor, collecting a few tools and the unassuming stableman’s garb he wore when slipping unobtrusively into the city. He knew the location of Willem’s lair now, at least, and Loren had mastered a hundred spells to unravel even the most strenuously enchanted entrance-protection charms. Once within the hidden chamber he had merely to locate and destroy Willem’s heartstone, scattering the boy’s magic to the lands, skies, and seas. Then, with the obstruction of the mage thus removed, Rafael would be his. Shap, too, but despite what he told his slavering, empire-hungry councillors the prospect of ruling the rolling lands of the northern kingdom held little appeal compared to his true prize. Soon, within five days’ time, Loren would “arrive” early in Shap and claim his due, and the throbbing power of King Rafael’s mighty manhood would be his at last.
Gareth blinked several times, trying focus against a turgid mind that felt full of cold pigs’ blood. He fought to focus on the smiling figure bending over him. It was Rahun, the tavernkeeper, and though his hand was extended down to him as though to aid him to his feet, the man’s grin was less than charitable.
The Guardsman’s Respite, then. Another blackout—that made three. He accepted the tavernkeeper’s assistance and clambered awkwardly to his booted feet, realizing belatedly that his face was in a goodly amount of pain—and wet with some kind of cooling glop. “What happened?’ he groused, not wanting to know.
Rahun was now offering him a clean but well-washed towel, no longer as white as it had once been. Gareth took it reluctantly and began scrubbing at his face. The skin felt tight and angry, like he’d be red for a day or two. He almost growled.
“You had best be asking Lord Darek why he did that, if you truly do not know,” the tavernkeeper said, not concealing his mirth very well, though it was clear he was making an attempt out of courtesy for his noble guest. Gareth lowered the towel and have him a wary look. “If I were you, though,” Rahun continued, “I would steer clear of the young marshal until he’s had a chance to best his temper.”
“A hundred years should do it,” said a wag from somewhere behind Rahun, and there was a round of laughter. Ugh. Guardsmen. Even peasants were not so crass, though the guards at least did know how to fuck, he would give them that, and there were plenty that were more than willing to bend a pretty dandy over the nearest barrel. He could spot five in this crowd that knew Gareth’s ass better than their own, and still leered at him as he stood there, slightly scalded and publicly degraded. Well, let them think what they might of him. Gareth would come out on top—figuratively, at least.
Gareth handed back the towel. “What do I owe you?” he asked, reaching for his purse.
Rahun shook his head. “Lord Darek paid already, while you were on the floor,” he said politlely. “Unless you’re wanting another tankard?”
Gareth glanced at the table. Two tankards, some coins, and an empty stewbowl sat there. The nearer tankard was overturned—likely knocked over when Gareth had toppled to the floor. Half the table was covered in ale and stew, and his chair was on its side several feet away. The tableau told a story that any stranger could easily interpret—and Gareth did feel like a stranger to this scene. Whatever Gareth had done during his blackout, he’d managed to enrage one of the most controlled and even-tempered men in Shap.
“I don’t drink anymore,” he said in answer. He met the tavernkeeper’s gaze at last, and caught a slight frown of naked disbelief—whether because he didn’t believe any young man could abstain from ale, or from the evidence of the overturned tankard, Gareth couldn’t guess. He handed him a coin anyway. “For the mess and disruption,” he muttered, then turned and headed out into the street.
His suspicions seemed confirmed: whatever was going on with him had to involve magic, and that meant Willem Owinson. Gareth had never been more glad of being the chancellor’s son, as his regular snooping, of which his forbidding father was fallibly and obliviously unaware, meant that Gareth was thus privy to all kinds of useful information he was not supposed to know—including the boyish Chamberlain Royal’s secret double life as a sorcerer straight out of children’s storybooks and half-forgotten legends of the foundings of the very human commonwealth, before it was torn asunder by greed and chaos.
If Willem wasn’t doing this to him then he would know what was. Either way, he’d get the mage’s full attention tonight if he had to pry the man’s mouth off the king’s ungodly prick to do it.
Darek stalked through the citadel grounds, mind and heart both roiling. His feet, deprived of instructions, made their way toward the marshals’ training grounds, knowing their way even in the dark. Before he was halfway across the outer demesne, however, he turned abruptly and headed toward the vast, torchlit structure of the citadel and the tall, moon-silvered keep within.
He should warn Willem. He… wasn’t sure about what, exactly, but maybe the mage himself had more of the pieces.
He was still hard. Though still of lesser size than almost all of the pricks he’d ever seen it definitely felt bigger than he was accustomed to, and the intensity of his arousal made it seem like it was commanding his attention. He might have to find someone, and soon, as soon as he was done here. His heart squeezed—if only it could be Willem to slake his need…
As he approached the minor west gate to the citadel he noticed the two guards stationed there whispering as they watched him in the torchlight. His lips curled as he picked up what they were saying—evidently these guards were unaware of just how well sound carried across the wide, stone-clad courtyards of the outer demesne.
“Look, it’s Lord Darek,” one said to the other in a hushed voice. “See how handsome he is.”
“Ludicrously handsome. And shaped by the loving gods.”
“His arms… they’re like the mighty boughs of the world-holding tree.”
“You’re a poet, you are.”
“I’ll be honest, I’d switch to men for him.”
“You’ve let me suck your fat, odorous prick five times now!”
“That’s different. Ssh, here he comes.”
Darek had slowed his steps to let the two men spin out their amusing banter, but now he was upon them. They were outfitted in ceremonial within-grounds garb rather than the helm and armor of the outer gate men, though they wore swords against emergencies and there were spears ready to hand in a recess by the narrow double gate standing open behind them. As such it was easy to see their attributes, and their masculinity shone to him in his burgeoning desire as though all men had a radiance from within that only he could see. The dark-haired one on the left—the poet—was unexpectedly attractive: short but compactly and powerfully built, possibly proportionately more developed in the chest and shoulders than Darek himself, if he was judging what lay below the reinforced leather of his uniform jacket correctly, with light eyes and pale skin set off by a short, dark beard and dark eyebrows. He seemed unsure where to look—looking a noble in the eyes might be impertinent, but staring at the two-finger-thick pectorals positioned directly before him was equally crude.
After a second’s hesitation, the guard addressed a spot on Darek’s left shoulder and said, “Good even to you, Lord Darek.”
Darek smiled inwardly and shared a look with the taller, lighter-haired guard, who was slightly more ordinary looking but seemed easygoing. His trim but still muscled build suggested flexibility as well as strength, offering a nice complement to his companion’s form. The lighter-haired guard rolled his eyes slightly at his companion’s antics, but Darek could see he was just as impressed with Darek’s allure and no less willing than his openly appreciative friend, and as Darek watched the tip of his tongue emerged and moistened his wine-red lips.
Darek blinked and dropped his gaze for a moment. He didn’t understand what was happening to him. It was as though he were fighting his steadily strengthening libido in its efforts to subsume him, while simultaneously his attractiveness to other men had somehow increased in the same measure as his cravings for them. He had already been awash with desire when he’d confronted Willem on the stairs, and his sense of arousal had been mounting uncontrollably since he’d left the mage’s lair, to the point that his need now felt alarmingly urgent and difficult to resist. His hard, heavy cock seemed to smolder hotly in his low-cut trousers like banked hearth, and every measure of his exposed, sun-kissed skin felt aflame with need for the touch of a man’s hand and a man’s sweet mouth.
He looked the two guards over, taking in the shorter one’s powerful physique and his friend’s long legs and strong, limber look, his slow perusal of their forms leaving them in the meantime with no doubt as to his intentions. He was drawing them to him—he could feel it; soon it might even be literal, he mused wryly, pulling men to him like a magnet, and Darek indulging helplessly in the attentions so gained.
He must control it. He must rule his desires, and seek satisfaction on his terms, not his growing prick’s. He briefly considered consulting Willem on this point before swiftly discarding the idea. He would have no man laugh behind his hand at Darek Drakeson, not when natural gifts and ruthless training meant he possessed strength enough in body and mind to face any crisis.
“How long are you two on this gate?” he asked.
The shorter guard gulped. “Two more hours, my lord,” he said regretfully.
“Hmm,” Darek said. “Perhaps I shall return then.” Then he turned and, unexpectedly cupping the lighter-haired guard by his stubbled cheek, drew him into a soft, slow kiss. His rigid, swelling cockstand throbbed, demanding more, but he stepped back, winked solemnly at the astonished guards, and strode silently past them into the inner citadel.
King Rafael lay stiffly in his bed, in more ways than one. Night had fallen, the candles had been doused, and the keep had descended into the low murmurs of its relative repose, but Rafe found himself more and more unable to sink into the quietude of sleep. Ever since his risky processional detour through Presshe and the strangely pleasurable curse Loren had inflicted on him, his “bone”—as Will liked to call it—had progressed from the always-stiff condition he was used to dealing with to a throbbing insistence that seemed to be escalating along with his increasing size. That, and the incomparable pleasure and amplified sensitivity he was experiencing, so that a mere brush of his own fingers sent shivers through his entire physique and sent his fist-sized balls churning in deep, instantaneous reaction, made ignoring his chest-high manhood and relaxing his mind into sleep increasingly elusive. Even now, as he lay sprawled on his massive, incomparably comfortable mattress—one of the best perquisites of royalty, without a doubt—his body seethed with irrepressible sexual energy despite a long day of anxiety and three successive full-body orgasms.
He looked down at his bone where it lay unresting, its great head pressed lightly against the flesh of his left pectoral. The weight was impressive, seeming almost to press him into the bed, and so was the heat. He could feel his own sparse chest hair brushing against the taut, oversensitive foreskin, and he knew that if he flexed his bone even slightly the pleasure of simply whisking slightly against his thickly muscled, lightly haired chest would instantly push him to seek further stimulation and drive himself to yet another climax. The slit dripped steadily, adding to the sweat-dampness and unmopped spend of his last orgasm.
Rafe licked his lips.
He had always loved his prick. It was large and happy and eager to please from the moment he entered his early puberty. The jokes had followed swiftly, and Rafe had secretly reveled in the reputation he had developed—as someone who was both sexually irrepressible and wholesomely goodhearted. He’d liked the idea that his goofy eroticism and the romantic monogamy that had developed naturally between him and his childhood friend Will might overcome leftover ideas from a previous, more emotionally repressive era of sexuality being dirty or shameful. He hadn’t expected to be king, but a king with a friendly sceptre might be even better in normalizing healthy, happy sex.
Though a sceptre could be a little too happy, it seemed.
Rafe let himself stare at his gigantic, monstrous appendage, so stiff Rafe was sure he could barely move it even with the strength he’d spent long years relentlessly seeding into his arms, chest, back, and shoulders (his legs as well, though they would be less helpful yet except in bearing the weight of this arm-sized pillar once he needed to stand and walk again). Though it was rigidly unmoving it felt like it was subtly quivering with an urgency that called to Rafe’s firm, deft hands and, increasingly, to lips that, for their own part, hungered for his colossal prick. He’d been able to lick the head for years, thanks to a confluence of size and flexibility, but for days now his bone had been within easy reach of his hot, greedy mouth. The thought rising in his mind again made saliva flow under his tongue and his giant prick tense with expectancy.
He closed his eyes and huffed a breath, and even the gust of his sigh stimulated his cockhead and caused a surging response in his massive, hairy balls. Could he hold back? Should he?
Where was Will? In his hidden chamber, no doubt. He’d told Rafe that he had his solution, and Rafe was cautiously optimistic that his prick seemed to have recently stopped its slow but accelerating growth. Had Will accomplished a transfer? Was Will’s prick now pushing bigger and bigger?
Rafe’s prick squeezed of its own accord, sending tides of pleasure slamming through him. Will’s cock, growing—it was a thought at once fascinating and frightening. He didn’t truly want it for Will, not least because Will’s prick was already almost too large for Rafe’s mouth and, the times they had tried it, a shocking intrusion into his inexperienced backside. But he could imagine it too easily. Will’s erection, creeping relentlessly up his chest as he lay in his own bed one flight down from his. Will staring at it with unbridled lust, just as Rafe had been doing with his own moments before. Will’s full, sweet lips parting in wonder and extreme desire. Will’s long, elegant, beautiful bone sliding up his own sweaty, firmly muscled chest, until Will could no longer resist its call and in one sudden, swift movement bent and swallowed his growing prick deep into his own throat…
A surge of near-orgasm shook Rafe, sending him soaring into raw, untrammeled ecstasy. Without conscious volition he mirrored the action he had just imagined Will performing, swallowing deep his own much thicker, real-life giant prick until its head thrust against his throat and its too-thick girth filled his reveling mouth. At first he held himself there, staving off orgasm by an exertion of sheer will, then, barely calmed, his hands firmly pressed against the bedding, he began sliding his tongue slowly and cautiously around the sides of his wide, impatient cockhead, occasionally getting a gut-tightening thrill as he swallowed its thin, steady flow of clear fluid. He knew what he wanted now. He would give himself simple, low-grade, persistent pleasure while prolonging the experience as long as he could. Right now that sounded even hotter than another climax, no matter how much his balls told him he must explode again soon. He licked and mouthed, gentle and steady, not touching himself, driving his unparalleled stimulation along the long, slow edge of mind-breaking release.
“Mother earth,” he heard a voice murmur reverently. He opened his eyes to see Will standing at the foot of his bed, naked and masculinely beautiful, his prick—extremely large by any measure that did not include Rafe—hard and red with need, pointing directly at the sight that held his lover appreciative and awed.
Rafe eyed Will’s rigid prick. It was massively large, but… was it larger? If his mouth had been free, he might have asked. Instead, he twitched his eyebrows at Will, inviting him to enjoy the show as he hummed and ministered to the upper reaches of his unbelievable, insatiable prick. Soft, sandy-blond bristles had emerged along his jawline after a long day, and Rafe ached to feel their brush against his own cheeks and up the long length of his desperate shaft.
His mischievous, handsome mage of a partner smiled wide at the sight before him, unending love and unquenchable desire equally evident in his bright, emerald green eyes. “Let me help you with that, lover,” he said softly, as he climbed up onto the bed and into Rafe’s pleasure.
Darek was striding across one of the inner courtyards toward the central keep when he felt it. It was impossible, yet unmistakable: the working of tongue and lips around his hard, heavy, growing prick.
His step faltered and he looked down, half expecting to see himself being fellated by some unnoticed admirer. There was no one, of course, and yet it could not be denied that the upper reaches of his manhood were being expertly ministered to by an unseen mouth well-acquainted with its task.
A cluster of washing maids turned a corner and saw him, standing awkwardly amidst the potted shrubs of the little courtyard. The maids gaped, taking in his magnetic beauty, his perfect physique, and his blush-reddened skin. Perhaps something new had happened as well—the bulge of his towering arousal drawing the attention of onlookers, born of his subtle but steady growth and his nonstop, insistent arousal, would be an innovation, one Darek wasn’t sure he knew how to feel about. Meanwhile the lathing and mouthing of his erection continued relentless, flooding Darek with intense and unrelenting pleasure.
Flustered and incredibly aroused, Darek unstuck his feet and charged through an open archway into the torchlit darkness of the massive, circular keep. The pleasure was only mounting when suddenly and unexpectedly it was horribly, wondrously magnified—a second mouth joined the first, licking and mouthing up his shaft and nearly sending him into stratospheric release. Only, he could somehow feel that release was not going to come so easily. Both of these impossible unseen mouths were working his rigid, sensitive prick slowly, even languorously, as if the intent behind this pleasuring was for him to be ceaselessly pleasured into utter madness.
He ducked into the narrow service corridor that ringed the keep along its thick outer wall in time to see a man emerging from behind a thick, massive tapestry. The young man looked around him nervously to see if he had been spotted. When he met Darek’s eyes, he froze, his pleasingly handsome face paling almost to the platinum whiteness of his long, loose hair. Darek thought he knew the man—a promising member of the guard-elite, already developing a reputation for initiative and quick thinking. He was not wearing his uniform, however, and his eyes betrayed his fear—though alongside that fear was a fierce, unbated lust, as strong or stronger than any craving for himself he had ever apprehended in another man’s eyes.
Darek stalked toward him, and the young man’s eyes widened. The mouths worked Darek’s prick remorselessly, and Darek knew that how own release must be made to happen before he could even think of going to Willem with the news of Gareth’s plot. This guard-elite—Elias, if he remembered the man’s name correctly—he was an opportunity. Not ideal, but very, very necessary.
“L-lord Darek?” the guard asked at last.
Darek stood directly before Elias now, barely noticing the guard’s advantage in height over him by a half-handsbreadth at least. The guard was well-proportioned, broad-shouldered and made for grace and speed, though he was no match for Darek’s size and power and hard-trained dexterity. More than that, Darek was practically radiating strength, beauty, and the potency of what felt like infinite sex. Elias was staring at him in awe, his fear already melting away into his ferocious desire. It was as if Darek were a towering demigod whose mere presence so close before him, their gazes locked, fulfilled his every yearning and fantasy.
“Do you want me, guard-elite?” Darek asked in his low, quiet voice. He had to fight to sound normal. He had never imagined two mouths on his straining prick before, and it was almost more pleasure than he could stand.
The guard did not respond, though his stare seemed if anything to intensify, if that were possible. “Tell me,” Darek urged. “Here. Now. Do you want me, Elias?”
The pale man let out all of his breath, then his expression firmed. “More than anything,” he whispered, his pale brown eyes now full of promise and intent.
Elias hesitated only one more heartbeat before shooting a hand around Darek’s neck and pulling him into a violent kiss. Darek returned the kiss with equal fervor. No more words were required. They both were desperate now for the same thing: Darek’s release. Darek only hoped that Elias would allow him to return the favor before Darek was forced to walk away.
Elias averted his eyes as best he could from the unnaturally handsome lordling tucking his still-half-swollen and barely-sated shaft into his loose, clay-brown guardsman’s breeches. The taste of Darek’s copious spend warmed Elias’s mouth and throat—unlike his own release, which now cooled, wasted and unappreciated, in long, spattered lines across the insensate paving stones of the narrow service passage between the marshal’s casually-sandaled feet. He was confused by his own unnerving inability just now to resist Darek Drakeson’s urgent demands for his mouth and tongue. To be sure he had admired the sculpted beauty of the young scion as all had done, but never before had Elias’s powerful, all-consuming arousal been kindled by Darek or any other man but his beloved Rafael. Not until now, not until this very moment.
Darek was still there, looming over him, as motionless as the stone walls crowding them close around. That was strange as well: he had expected the man to use him and, satisfied, to then stomp off into the inner keep on whatever business had brought him here this night. But he had not done so. Neither of them moved, as though they were one of the carved effigies in the ancient sepulcher below the keep. Fellator and fellatee, frozen in dour post-climactic satiation, entombed in eternal memorial to a fleeting moment of shared, sublime pleasure.
After a few loud thumps of his own heart Elias stood slowly from his kneeling position and chanced a glance at the exquisite face. Darek was frowning, his searching, dark blue eyes seemingly almost alight in the dimly lit corridor, at odds with the gently flushed cheeks betraying the lingering effects of Elias’s unpracticed but effective ministrations. A sliver of joy at the sight of him shivered through Elias, just as it had when Darek had happened on him moments before. He had never felt a rush of want like that for the lordling or any other non-kingly mortal, and his faint awareness of its strangeness felt like a clue to a mystery he had yet to broach, and a warning of something he could not see. Disconcerted and alert, he kept his chin lowered as he stowed his own manhood and did up his breeches.
“What is your business here in the keep, mouse?” Darek asked him, his tone quiet and, Elias suspected, deceptively calm. Even his voice, not too low but smooth and sweetly layered in rich timbers, seemed more enticing then it should be.
More than it should be. The idea turned in slow arcs in his mind. Elias remembered the strange affliction his king endured in the chambers above. Had Darek, too, been subjected to some kind of spell enhancing his allure. Did Darek know? Darek might be looks-conscious enough to want to be more attractive, but his legendary confidence was so unassailable it was all but impossible to imagine him believing he would need any supernatural enhancement to his own uncanny beauty. And who would cast such a spell? Had Will inflicted preternatural beauty on him as a devilment, perhaps in some retaliation for some act of rudeness on the marshal’s part?
Darek crowded closer. They were of a height, but Drake’s presence and potency, if anything intensified by the brutal audacity of his heated, hard-sculpted seminudity, made him seem to fill the air around him. “Answer,” Darek pressed, his voice still low and calm, winding around his senses.
Behind him, Elias was aware of the tapestry that hid the secret door leading up to the unused wardrobe in the king’s bedchamber. It seemed to be waiting for Elias’s words as well, a co-conspirator as silent and anxious as the secret sage-fowl of Taq.
Boldly he met Darek’s blue eyes, seeking the threads of the familiarity they had briefly shared. The other man was close, close enough that as he turned his face fully toward him Darek’s warm breath gusted gently over Elias’s lips. Again, he felt the longing, sharp and almost separate from Darek’s innate and natural attractiveness, like honey drizzled on an already perfect and delicious cake. His cock, confused and pulled on by two separate forces, resurged from its momentary torpor, now rested and ready to serve.
He held the noble’s gaze resolutely, as a man who shared the passions he knew they both felt. “I was with my beloved,” he said truthfully, his voice as low and quiet as Darek’s.
He expected questions about who the beloved might be, or explanations demanded of the secret passages none now seemed to know but Elias himself. Instead, to his surprise Darek’s brow quirked mischievously, and the sapphire eyes glinted. “Am I not your beloved, mouse?” he teased.
Elias knew gambits and games like Darek knew swordwork, and he did not hesitate to play this one. He let his lips curve slightly. “For the moment,” he replied in the same tone.
Darek seemed quietly delighted at Elias’s cheek, his cheeks dimpling, his eyes bright and amused. Perhaps the mindless admiration of the masses grew tiresome after a while, Elias mused. Then Darek impulsively closed the scant space between their lips and kissed him forcefully, sending his tongue on a thorough tour of Elias’s willing mouth. Their groins pressed unconsciously close, each with cockstand renewed and seeking to nuzzle the other through the thin fabric separating them.
The lordling pulled back, satisfied and smug at Elias’s breathless stare. “I taste myself on you,” he said. “It’s a good taste.”
Elias shrugged very slightly, encouraged to brazenness by Darek’s playful interest in him. He kept his eyes fixed on Darek’s, waiting for the instant change in mood that often seemed to be the defining characteristic of lord and captains. Instead Darek smiled, and the smile seemed genuine. At the same time his eyes, if anything, grew more intense. They flitted to the tapestry behind Elias, then returned to his lips before meeting his gaze anew, as if the lordling were cataloging the ways in which Elias might be useful to him.
“Elias of Huass, you are in my sole and special service from this moment forward,” Darek said, his voice somehow commanding and intimate at the same time.
Elias’s breath caught, as much at the marshal’s awareness of his name and village as at the suddenness of his new assignment. He almost missed the pet name, but with Darek’s orders there would now be a chance to hear it again.
He was still meeting Darek’s gaze. “As you command… captain,” he answered quietly, the last being the traditional means of ritually signifying the lordling’s status as the superior of Elias’s new company—a company of one, as it happened.
Their hard pricks were pressing firmly against each other through their breeches, as if belying the formality of their words of subornment. A moment passed, and inside Elias cheered, as one might at a good hit in a joust, when Darek’s eyes dropped magnetically to Elias’s lips again—before Elias even thought of wavering. It was as though Elias’s skills, or maybe Darek’s unbridled need, had somehow outstripped a beauty spell that had Elias yearning for Darek even above the true keeper of his heart and fantasies above. A beloved whose love, whose touch, whatever he had implied to the Darek, Elias would never truly know or feel.
Elias needed no further invitation, closing in for a kiss that quickly descended into heated, unthinking lust as he slid his arms around the young noble’s naked, perfect torso. Lord Darek sought to use Elias, for release and for the knowledge and skills the marshal suspected he possessed, but Elias intended to make sure he got his own benefits from this unexpected bond with, artificially or not, the only other man in the kingdom who could make Elias cum.
“At last,” sneered Gareth from where he sat, arms folded over his narrow chest, on a bench in the large anteroom of the royal private chambers as I exited from within, aglow with satiation. He tone was acidic as he sought to pin me with his iron-gray stare. “You attend too diligently to your king, young chamberlain.”
I paused in my stride only long enough to give him a narrow look, annoyed as usual by the “young chamberlain” jibe—his way of demeaning me and my role as if my youth made it all a childish pretense, a boy dressing up in the clothes of his elders for an afternoon’s play-acting. It was an insult, and if it came to it it would not be difficult to argue it was a slight on the king as well. Perhaps the coward considered me an easy target, unlikely to lash out. I certainly wasn’t as reactive as others. I amused myself imagining him addressing Darek Drakeson as “baby marshal” and how that might have gone.
Gareth himself was more red-faced than usual, I noticed, and not, this time, as a result of his famous choler. “You’re looking well, Lord Eronson,” I said, resuming my walk. “Did your soup disagree with you?”
Gareth sprang up to follow me, sparing a poisonous glance for the two stone-faced guards who had, quite rightly, denied Gareth entry to the king’s chambers. Only I and men of the once-royal House of Drakon—presently the high marshal, Drake, and his son Darek—had leave to enter the inner demesne without leave, I from office and affection, the Drakones grudgingly from ancestral right. “It is that about which I wish to speak with you, Willem Owinson,” Gareth hissed as he matched my customary pace, turning with me into the wide hall leading to the upper armory and the grand stairs.
“Your soup?” I asked blandly. It was not hard to imagine scenarios in which a hot meal might have been thrown at Gareth’s face; I had contemplated doing so myself at more than state dinner. What was more elusive was how the matter might involve me in any way. As chamberlain I, blessedly, had no political role, though as it was known the king took my counsel seriously I was often the target of those who sought to impress me in one argument over policy or another. I certainly had nothing to do with some spat between the foppish, ill-tempered chancellor’s son and whichever brawny, hairy-chested guard he had curled his lip at after a grand half hour bent over a mess table.
I made to walk past him, but Gareth grabbed my arm and with surprising strength dragged me into the armory and closed the door. It was not a large room and was packed with weapons, shields and armor. Scents of oil, iron, and sweat filled the enclosed space, meshing badly with Gareth’s perfume—which, to be fair, was subtle but, at close range, unavoidable. Almost without thinking I cast a silent odor-dissipation spell. Being able to work magic without spoken words had saved me and my nose a lot of trouble over the last nine years of my secret magehood.
I regarded him coolly, tempted to ask tauntingly how he even knew this room existed. Though I did not train obsessively like the king and his marshals and guards I knew how to use a sword, and while not imposingly weighted with thick, arresting muscle like Rafe or Darek I could take comfort in the fact that even I was fitter and more square-shouldered than the comely, auburn-coiffed slip of aristocracy currently attempting to bore holes in me with his storm-gray eyes.
“Thrice this week,” Gareth spat, “I have suffered periods of blackness. Periods in which I did and said things that were as unlike me as cuckolding the king would be unlike you.”
I folded me arms, unpressed. “Perhaps you should moderate your ale intake,” I said.
He glared at me even harder. “You know that drink is not my vice,” he replied, anger simmering under his words.
I did know that. Gareth was, and had been for some years now, too concerned with his beauty and appearance to risk losing control in public, or even in private. “Then perhaps you are mad.”
“Perhaps,” Gareth said, “I am being possessed.”
I frowned. It was a strange thing to say. Few believed that magic even existed in Shap in these modern times, and some claimed it never had. For a noble to seriously suggest, as Gareth was now doing, that magic not only existed but was actively being worked, on him, was a gamble even more perilous to his reputation than a pint or two of ale.
Having trained myself to hide my knowledge of magic I responded as anyone else would, with a derisive scoff. “Go seek the mages, then,” I said derisively—an expression that in Shap was akin to others with the same meaning like “go ask favors of the sea” or “go hatch a turnip.”
Gareth’s stare seemed to sharpen. “Worthy advice,” he bit out.
We stared at each other for a long moment. My need to keep my abilities secret warred with worry that Gareth, ill-tempered but, unlike Darek, never rash or impulsive, might have reason to fear he was being magically used. And if there was any merit to his concerns I needed to know, because that meant there was another sorcerer in Shap—and, given the choice of agent at the heart of the state and the aristocracy, one with clandestine and probably malicious intent.
“What happens during these bouts of blackness?” I asked at last, keen to avoid showing my hand as best I could, though I could not help feeling that with these words acknowledging his concerns and that he had brought them to me we had passed a threshold.
“I am seeking information,” he said immediately. “I do not know of what. But I find myself in strange places. The first time I was prowling the dungeons. The second I was at my father’s desk, rifling through papers—half of which I had myself prepared. The third I had joined Lord Darek at the Guardsman’s Respite, and whatever I told or asked him so angered him that he hurled his stew at me and, I am told, consigned me to the Underlord.”
I kept my face blank with an effort. Gareth might not guess why he had found himself in the dungeons, but I knew. And those other instances could not be anything but outright espionage or treason. Gareth would not have told me these things unless they were true and he was genuinely afraid.
Reluctantly I let my vision slip, knowing that my expression would give me away. I didn’t quite understand how exactly—I had never seen it, naturally—but Rafe had always said my “mage face” was obvious to a close observer. Something about the eyes, apparently. Sure enough I heard Gareth take in a breath as I used my other vision to examine his inner being. There were no bonds on him now, but there were traces of something—a foothold, perhaps, that might be used for further possessions. There was not enough left in these fragments to be sure, but the feel of the spell was ominously reminiscent of the ensorcellment cast on Rafe by a certain dark master of Presshe.
I breathed out slowly and forced my vision to return to normalcy. Gareth’s put-upon expression had not changed, but there was a hint of vindication in the set of his red lips. I nodded, confirming to him what I had seen. His shoulders relaxed fractionally. He continued to stare at me, too proud or afraid to ask.
I sighed and pressed my hand to his chest. It was not difficult to cleanse him of the remnants of the spell, and unlike the one that had afflicted Rafe—now conveniently, if slightly maliciously, transferred to my other nemesis, Darek—it was not rigged for destructive collapse. Gareth gasped audibly as he felt the magic working through him. “Snakes and sparrows,” he cursed.
Not sure why, once I was done with that I transferred my hand to his cheek and expended a sliver of life energy healing his scalded face and neck. He blinked at me, swallowing. When I took my hand away he was regarding me with a tinge of wonder—not, I suspected, so much that I had worked magic to assuage his discomfort, but that I done it for him.
“Thank you, Will,” he said roughly.
I nodded, and all at once Gareth and I were on a new footing—which was disconcerting in a way, as before I at least knew what to expect. A smaller man might have gloated over possession of a secret like mine, but Gareth was, as I had always suspected, a man of honor underneath his irascibility. The honest respect in his eyes was naked and humbling.
I did not bother asking if he remembered being approached by any strangers: whoever had done this—and it was probably Loren, but only probably—would not have risked revealing himself to his target in any meaningful way. “Come to me,” I said instead, “if anything like this happens again.”
He nodded once. Then, perhaps as uncertain how to deal with our new dynamic as I was, he turned abruptly and left, leaving me alone to ponder this new threat to the man I loved and the kingdom he was sworn to protect.
Rafael, naked and alone, paced his chambers like a captive tiger. His arm-sized manhood, standing tall and so iron-hard it barely moved as he walked, pressed snugly against the leftward side of his firm and manly chest, as warm as a stone bench on a bright summer’s day, its melon-sized head red and glistening with the clear fluid it dappled against his training-thickened breast. Its weight and that of the impressively augmented balls below, far from being a burden, felt comforting to the magically strengthened muscles of his groin, the way the heft of shield felt right to the powerful thews of his left arm, and a sword a true extension of his kingly grip. This enormous prick was indeed an extension of himself, more so than any weapon, and its size and growth felt eerily natural and good in a way he hesitated to explain to his chamberlain, sorcerer, and soulmate.
Will would be concerned. He would fear his complacency—his welcoming of this malevolently-intended distortion of his form—as part of Loren’s plan, a residue of mesmerization designed to delude Rafe into embracing, figuratively and literally, a metamorphosis meant to destabilize his throne and the kingdom with it. How could he tell Will of his long-suppressed boyish fantasies? Of how learning as a sex-obsessed adolescent that his raging, almost always-hard prick was twice the size of other men’s had only instilled in him lurid unspoken fantasies in his generous endowment growing even larger? Of how he had secretly wondered, when he had first understood what Loren had done, whether his own half-buried cravings were what truly drove the increasingly rapid expansion of his singularly massive tool?
Now, the growth had stopped, the spell transferred. A new balance between man and cock had been reached. This was his “shaft,” as the guardsmen called it—his “bough,” really—all the more so for its alignment with the giddy dreams of the randy, grinning youth still inside him. It was what he was, now. Just as he had faced the cold truth of being king after the unlooked-for deaths of his father and his elder brother, so too must he accept this new truth of who he was, of what he had become. Acceptance came more easily this time, perhaps because he had already endured the greater shock of suddenly ascending a throne he had never expected to know, perhaps because his deepest, innermost desires giggled at having been so lavishly and gratifyingly realized.
He paused and leaned against the thumb-shaped window that looked out over one of the bustling inner courtyards below. Directly underneath were the kitchens, and he watched idly from above as a strapping, tawny-haired undercook, his own age or a little older and dressed in a sleeveless tunic, crossed the paved courtyard, the neck of a live chicken in each fist, making for an inner door. Perhaps feeling Rafe’s eyes on him he slowed and looked up, then froze, gaping, at the vision he saw above, framed in the narrow aperture of the royal chambers: the king, gloriously naked, magnificently aroused, his cockstand unmatched by any beast short of the giant centaurs of Klem, who were said to have fucked the very mountains themselves.
A little thrill of discovery tickled Rafe’s insides, and he watched in delicious anticipation as the undercook’s jaw slackened—along with his hands, releasing the fowls to squawk away unheeded across the courtyard and back to the safety of their coop. Their eyes met, and Rafe smiled warmly at him. After some moments the enthralled youth jolted and, recognizing his young monarch, sketched him a quick bow before scurrying into the kitchens, one hand gripping at a hard-looking lump in his coarse trousers as he ran.
Rafe’s smile stayed on his lips. The encounter with the undercook felt like an omen, and he was more than ready to hear its message. The time had come.
Turning swiftly, he strode with purposeful step toward the private office adjoining his chambers—rooms which, in turn, opened onto the office of his royal secretary, Adlec, a no-nonsense professional administrator some ten years his senior, handsome in his own way and the real master of keep and castle. Without checking his stride he threw open the alabaster double doors leading into Adlec’s domain and stood before the astonished retainer in all his naked glory.
“Adlec,” he said, relishing the rush of excitement from his own sudden resolve, “will you do something for me?”
Adlec’s eyes were wide, though his expression as was stoic as always. He drew thumb and forefinger down his rich, well-trimmed russet beard on either side of his lips, a gesture Rafe knew meant that Adlec was considering his next words carefully. “What exactly do you wish of me, my liege?” he asked, his eyes scanning the prodigious royal manhood as though testing various scenarios against it.
Rafe held back a laugh. “Nothing untoward,” he said cheerily. “Send pages to summon the chancellor, high marshal, high seneschal, and high justiciar to wait upon me at their earliest convenience. And the chamberlain as well, of course.”
Adlec’s brows rose. Clearly he was as surprised at this sudden, rare summoning of the inner council as by a lightning strike from a clear blue sky. Rafe could almost see his mind working. A call like this might be expected in response to a sudden disaster, but he knew his own exuberant expression bespoke the opposite. Perhaps he was wondering if there was some equally unexpected good news, like—the idea struck Rafe unexpectedly—he and Will finally getting married. He had been waiting to feel his feet under him as king before proposing, but perhaps now was the time. He filed the idea away to consider more closely.
“Shall I send for the valet as well, my liege?” Adlec asked, as if to tactfully remind Rafe of his current and rather extreme state of undress.
Rafe grinned. “I’ll prepare myself this time,” he said, stalking calmly back into his chambers. Fate and a wayward enemy might have pressed Shap into a new era, but the council must be made to see, as Rafe now understood, that there was no hiding the truth of what lay before them.