FEYAR STOOD naked by the window, looking down at the quiet courtyard below. The evening sun was low in a sky ablaze with red and gold. The fading sunlight glinted on the breastplates of the royal warriors who guarded the palace. Not that there was need of them. Teruna had been a peaceful kingdom for many years, and the warriors were there mainly because tradition dictated it so.
Unless the rumors are true, Feyar thought, his brow creased. For months now there had been talk in the royal city of unrest brewing in the kingdom of Kandor, many days’ ride from Teruna’s capital. A new king had ascended the throne, and Teruna’s people murmured that old grudges long thought forgotten had resurfaced.
Feyar sighed heavily. Such rumors were not good. It was well-known among Teruna’s inhabitants that King Feolin was growing weaker. Rumblings of a threat to their peaceful land could only serve to trouble the king’s mind. And despite his present situation, Feyar wished his monarch no ill.
How could I wish ill upon the father of the man I love, my terushan?
“Come back to bed, my corishan.” Tanish’s voice was heavy with sleep.
Feyar turned to gaze at the young man who lay on his back beneath a single silken sheet. The smooth fabric clung to his lean form, revealing every line and curve, including the beginnings of an erection.
Feyar smiled to himself. When is he without one? It had been so since that day seven years ago, when the young prince had walked into the Seruanal for the first time. All those present had lowered their gaze, as was the law, but Feyar had peeked at the sixteen-year-old prince who seemed devoid of nerves. And Prince Tanish had caught him.
Their eyes had met for the briefest of moments, enough to have Feyar’s cock fill at the sight of that short brown hair, brown eyes, and lean body, already toned. The prince’s smooth chest was bare. He’d worn a bronze-colored robe, open to the waist, which had done little to hide the prince’s similar state. And in that moment, Feyar knew what no other in the palace had known: the royal prince liked men.
Upon hearing of his imminent visit, the women had been preening and primping for hours, all anxious to gain favor in his eyes. Feyar had to work hard to suppress his chuckle when he realized their preparations had been in vain.
“Of course, if you do not wish to have me before we sleep, that is your choice.”
Feyar shook himself mentally and looked across to the bed once more. Tanish was sitting up, the sheet pooled around his hips, his hand lazily stroking the increasingly rigid length between his legs. He was grinning, all hint of drowsiness gone.
Feyar gave a low growl and dove onto the bed, dragging the sheet away from Tanish’s body until his lover was nude, his chest rising and falling as his breathing became ragged, pupils wide with desire. “Oh, I shall have you.” Feyar pushed him back onto the bed and covered Tanish’s body with his own.
Tanish gazed up at him, lips parted, eyes shining in the candlelight. “Yes,” he whispered. He stroked Feyar’s soft beard. “Come love me, my terushan.”
It was an order Feyar had no qualms about obeying.
As the light faded from the room, leaving only the flickering of the candles, Feyar slid deep into his lover’s body, relishing the strong thighs that wrapped around him, Tanish pushing at his buttocks with his heels, urging him deeper still as they kissed. Feyar could feel Tanish’s steel-hard cock pressed between them, rubbing against his abdomen. They groaned into each other’s kiss as Feyar thrust faster, harder, his arms tightening around Tanish’s body as he pushed him closer to his release. And when it came, Feyar shuddered as he filled Tanish, heart full of love and adoration.
Feyar dropped his head to Tanish’s shoulder to whisper the words that lay on his heart. “Oh, how I love you, my terushan.” Feyar held Tanish in his arms, kissing him softly, the evidence of Tanish’s release warm on his skin. He closed his eyes and listened as his lover’s breathing grew more even, Feyar still buried deep inside him. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Tanish fell into a light sleep. Until he wanted his turn, of course. Feyar smiled against Tanish’s neck. Thank the Maker they were both happy to give and receive.
As far as Feyar was concerned, this was heaven.
He withdrew gently so as not to disturb Tanish and reached for the soft cloth that lay on the stone floor beneath the bed. He wiped himself clean of any residue and then brushed the fabric over Tanish’s buttocks, removing all trace of his seed. Once he’d dropped the cloth onto the floor, Feyar curled around his prince, wrapping his arm across Tanish’s chest, his hand splayed over his lover’s heart. He sighed contentedly when Tanish reached up to place his hand over Feyar’s.
His last thought before sleep claimed him was that life didn’t get any better than this.
“YOU SENT for me, Your Majesty?” Tanish knelt on the fur pelts that covered the stone floor of his father’s private audience chamber. He bowed his head and fell silent, waiting for his father’s attention.
The palace was quiet this morning. Tanish had risen with the sun and wandered over to gaze out of the window at the mountains of blue quartz in the distance, their snow-topped peaks glowing in the warm light. The sky was pale blue, not a single cloud to mar its vastness. He’d glanced across his bed where Feyar lay sleeping, sheet thrown back to reveal that glorious body, his pale, creamy skin covered in a layer of black hair. Tanish loved to run his fingers through it, tugging at it gently as they lay together. He loved the way it clung to Feyar’s body as they bathed together.
No servant had bathed Tanish since he’d reached manhood. He’d seen to that, despite his father’s protestations that a prince should not bathe himself. It was not seemly. Tanish smiled inwardly. Little did his father know that he shared his bath every night and every morning. And that his bathmate was more than happy to bathe him.
“Something pleases you.”
He looked up to find his father gazing at him, eyebrows arched. “Your Majesty?” Tanish straightened his face.
King Feolin smiled. “Rise and come sit with me. Have you eaten?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Tanish had shared fruit, yogurt, and honey with Feyar before he’d disappeared back into the Seruanal. Tanish’s heart sank as it always did when he kissed Feyar in parting. The day would seem so long until they could be together again in the safe haven of Tanish’s chambers.
His father got to his feet and walked unsteadily to the window that overlooked the city, his purple robe trailing behind him. His long locks were gray, a curtain of hair around his shoulders. “Such a beautiful morning,” he murmured. Then he winced and clutched at his chest.
Tanish was at his side in an instant. “Father?” He put his arm around his father and helped him to the wide sill, its cold stone surface covered with thick cushions. It was his father’s favorite place to sit and gaze at his kingdom. Tanish sat beside him, heart beating fast as he took in his father’s waxy complexion. “Is it bad this morning?” He laid a hand tentatively on his father’s knee.
The king snorted. “When is it not bad?” Then he sighed and patted Tanish’s hand. “But if my battle wounds mean that we achieved peace for Teruna, then they were worth it.”
“Not if they bring you constant pain!” Tanish bit his lip. He hadn’t meant disrespect, only concern.
King Feolin stared at him in surprise.
Tanish bowed his head. “Forgive me, Your Majesty,” he murmured. “I had no right to speak in such a tone.”
His father placed two fingers under Tanish’s chin to lift his face upward. “Tanish, my son. I took no offense. I know you speak from your heart.”
Tanish gazed at his father, his stomach tight. “Have you tried once more with the healers? Can nothing be done?” Even as he asked, he knew what the answer would be.
The king sighed. “They have no skill. I know not what it is that infects our kingdom, but there seems to be not one single healer who has the power to help.”
Tanish knew his father spoke the truth. The healers of Teruna were becoming a thing of the past. There was a time when the people could go to a healer and be assured of relief. These days that was no longer the case. Their healing magic seemed to have deserted every last one of them.
He grew aware of his father’s intense scrutiny. The king regarded him in silence for a moment and then let out a sigh that clutched at Tanish’s heart. “I should not have waited so long to sire a child,” he said at last.
“Father?” Tanish didn’t know what to make of his father’s words.
King Feolin smiled. “I was not much older than you when I first went into battle.” He chuckled. “I was a headstrong, obstinate youth who did not listen to advice. But I had just become king when your grandfather died in battle, and I had sworn to avenge him.” He rubbed his chest. “At that age, one feels immortal. When I recovered from my wounds, I felt as though I had cheated Death.” He shook his head. “Little did I know, Death is a patient one who bides his time.” He shivered. “This is why all men live in fear of him, for they know not when he will claim them.”
Tanish knew he spoke of the bits of metal still lodged in his body, causing him almost constant pain. A broken piece of a sword here, an arrowhead there that had proved impossible to remove—a constant reminder of the price his father had paid for peace.
His father regarded him fondly. “My biggest regret is that I was already in my forties when you were conceived.” He scowled. “I should have taken a wife long before, but I had no need of one, in spite of my advisers telling me so. All I sought were the pleasures of the Seruanal.” He gave a slight shudder.
Tanish straightened. It was the first time his father had mentioned the royal harem since he’d taken Tanish there on his sixteenth birthday. It was difficult to think of his father with a Seruan.
Perhaps all children feel thus when faced with the knowledge that their parents had appetites similar to their own. Tanish considered how often he and Feyar enjoyed each other, and the thought brought heat to his cheeks. He could not imagine his father having so voracious an appetite.
Something in his father’s words piqued Tanish’s interest. “How did you meet my mother?” Tanish had never known her. She had died in childbirth.
A faraway look came into his father’s eyes. “I had gone traveling throughout the kingdom. It was something your grandfather used to do. He loved being among the people, interacting with them. That was in the days before Kandor decided to overthrow Teruna, of course. He had no thought of Kandoran spies lurking everywhere. He simply went out and mingled with his subjects, and they loved him all the more for it. So, one year I decided to try it for myself.”
He cleared his throat. Tanish got up and went across to the table covered with parchments and poured a glass of wine from the delicate glass carafe. He took the ruby liquid to his father, who sipped it and then sighed.
“You are a good son.”
Tanish’s cheeks grew hot once more.
The king patted the cushions beside him, and Tanish retook his seat. It was rare to find his father in such a reflective mood, and Tanish loved to listen to the sound of his voice, deep and rich.
“So there I was, traveling through Teruna with only a bodyguard for company, when I stopped at an inn for some food. There was a fracas out in the street and I went to investigate. A female Seruan had collapsed and a crowd had formed. No one would go near her, of course, but one young woman stepped out of the crowd, knelt beside her, and began to tend to her. There were shouts for her to leave the Seruan alone, but she ignored them. She helped the Seruan to her feet and made as if to bring her into the inn. The innkeeper began blustering that this was not right, until I told him to be silent.” His father’s eyes gleamed. “He knew better than to argue with me.” He grinned, and then his expression softened. “The young woman made sure the Seruan was all right before bidding her farewell. Well, by now, this angel of mercy had my attention. And when she realized who I was, she almost fainted.” He smiled fondly. “I brought her back to the palace sitting in front of me on my horse, my arms around her. As we rode along through the streets, the people cheered as if I were bringing home a bride. And by the time we reached the palace, I had made up my mind that I would marry her.”
Tanish blinked rapidly. “You have never told me any of this, Father.”
The king sighed. “I know. I have not spent much time with you as you have grown, and that is something I bitterly regret. When I lost your mother, it hit me hard. We had not known that childbirth would strain her heart. And to be truthful, each time I saw you, I was reminded of her.” He gazed at Tanish fondly. “You have her dark skin, her eyes. She was a beautiful creature. And I regret the time I have wasted.”
Tanish bowed his head. “I am pleased that you are sharing with me now.” It had been a lonely life growing up in the palace, and it had only been in the last few years that he had gotten to know his father a little better. “I too regret that we have not been close. There were many times when I was growing up that I longed to talk with you, share with you my thoughts and dreams.”
The king smiled. “You are of an age now where we can speak of adult matters.” He cleared his throat once more before continuing. “That is why I wished to speak with you today. You are twenty-three, Tanish. Is it not time you thought about choosing a consort?”
Tanish stared at him in silence. “I… I do not understand.”
His father’s brows knitted. “I do not wish you to make the same mistakes I did. I know you share your bed every night with a Seruan.” Tanish opened his mouth to speak, but his father held up his hand. “Did you think I would not be informed of this? I took you to the Seruanal so that you could be instructed, to be ready for your future consort. You were supposed to spend your time there learning how to pleasure your partner, receiving instruction from a variety of Seruani.”
“Which is what I did,” Tanish protested.
His father quirked his eyebrows. “You have only ever had the one Seruan. Do not lie to me.” Tanish bowed his head, cheeks on fire. The king patted his arm. “This is not good, my son. Heaven forbid that you become emotionally attached to him.” He lifted Tanish’s chin and peered intently at him. “Tell me this is not so.”
Tanish kept his expression blank. “No, Father, it is not so.” His stomach roiled at the lie.
The king nodded. “Good. It matters not to me whether you choose a male or a female consort. I received instruction from both when I was first taken there, and it was clear to me very quickly that I leaned toward females. You prefer males, and that is your choice.” He stared at Tanish. “But having the same Seruan in your bed, night after night….” He shook his head. “It is time to put away your toy and find yourself a consort. Someone who could ride through the streets at your side, to the sound of the people cheering. You will be king one day.” He placed his hand on Tanish’s shoulder. “And I want the people to love you and whoever you choose to love.”
Tanish’s throat seized up. He swallowed hard as he tried not to let his emotions show. “Are you forbidding me from using the Seruanal?”
His father frowned. “No, my son. But it is all too easy to become dependent. I know, I was the same for many years. Just remember what they are.”
Tanish repressed the shudder that threatened to ripple through him. He could not think of Feyar like that. To Terunan society, a Seruan was the lowest of the low. The law demanded each Seruan wear a distinctive deep red cloak that declared them to be such. Tanish saw the way people reacted in the streets when they saw the cloak. They crossed to the other side, shunning the wearer.
Why must it be so? It was not the first time that thought had crossed Tanish’s mind. He had often wondered how such a law came to exist. The Seruani provided an essential service, as far as he could see. Those who wanted sex could simply choose a Seruan and pay them. Most of the Great Houses of the kingdom had several Seruan in their employ. They were people skilled in the art of lovemaking. Why, then, were they viewed—and treated—so harshly?
How can you be disgusted by someone who uses their body to bring pleasure to others?
His father rose to his feet. “There are other matters that we must discuss.”
Tanish was brought sharply into the moment. “Yes, Father?”
“You have been training with the royal soldiers, I hear.”
Tanish nodded. He worked out with them each morning, practicing his sword skills and riding with them on patrols. The last few months had seen this bring changes to his body. Tanish was not very tall, but his muscles had filled out. What he liked most was the way the men treated him, as one of their own. There was no pomp or bowing and scraping, and he liked the way they used his given name rather than his title. They were men, young and old, who enjoyed camaraderie. Tanish had put up with a lot of teasing when he’d first begun to work out with them, but when he’d reacted with good humor, that had been the end to it.
The king nodded also. “The head of the bodyguard regiment has been keeping me informed of your progress. I wanted to speak of this. If the rumors prove true, you may have need of your skills one day.”
“You speak of Kandor, Father?” Tanish wasn’t deaf to what was being whispered out in the city. There was talk of Kandor rising up once more against Teruna.
“Yes, my son. And if such a day comes, you must be prepared to lead our troops into battle.” He paused, his gaze going once again to the city beyond the window, its white stone walls gleaming in the sun. “But I have a plan to deter our enemies.”
Tanish’s pulse raced, and he leaned closer. “Can you tell me?”
The king smiled. “I will tell only you and Malin.”
Tanish’s heart almost burst with pride. The day was proving to be one of firsts. His father had never seen fit to share such knowledge with anyone except Malin, his most trusted adviser. The man was older than the king’s sixty-four years, and Tanish had always looked up to him. Malin had shown Tanish much kindness throughout his childhood and adolescence.
“Our nearest neighbor is the kingdom of Vancor. If our two great kingdoms were to form an alliance, our strength would be such that no one would dare threaten either of us again. I have sent messengers to King Beron, inviting him and Queen Vasha on a state visit.”
A royal visit. Tanish sat up at that. Such a thing had never happened before. “When will you know if they have accepted your invitation, Father?”
“Within a day or two,” the king replied. “I shall declare a national holiday when they arrive. I want the people to show them a fantastic welcome. And we shall have a royal ball to celebrate their visit.” His eyes gleamed. “I hear King Beron has a daughter of your age, perhaps a little younger. Maybe she will accompany her parents.”
Tanish’s stomach roiled, and a sour taste filled his mouth. “Is that why you have invited him?”
His father frowned. “No, I simply mention the daughter because it just occurred to me.” His brow smoothed out. “But if it should happen that this does come to pass, it is worth considering.” He patted Tanish’s arm. “A consort of royal blood, my son. One who can provide you with an heir.” The king sagged against the window’s edge, as if all energy had fled him. “And now you must leave me, my son.”
Tanish rose slowly to his feet and bowed low before his father. He turned and walked out of the audience chamber, past the two guards standing outside the thick wooden door. They nodded to him in greeting, and he acknowledged them with a smile, but his thoughts were miles away.
He wants to marry me off—to a girl. And this was despite his father’s claim that it didn’t matter if he chose a male or a female for his consort.
Tanish walked slowly, with a heavy heart. His path took him past the ornate metal door that led to the Seruanal, where all the palace Seruani dwelt. He found it difficult to breathe when the door opened and a figure emerged, draped in the cashor, the robe which all Seruani had to wear. The hood obscured the eyes of the wearer from Tanish’s sight, but he didn’t need to see any more to know it was Feyar beneath the robe. His senses were enough: his skin tingled as it always did when Feyar was near. Tanish had long become accustomed to his body’s reaction and no longer questioned the phenomenon.
Feyar didn’t acknowledge him. He walked by on the other side of the corridor, head bowed, hands clasped at his belly. Tanish watched him disappear through the doorway that led into the courtyard, his heart aching.
He could not have even raised a hand in greeting. That would have been frowned upon, and someone would have gotten word back to the king.
What kind of kingdom is this, he thought, where I cannot greet the man I love? Worse than that—I can never tell a soul that I love him.
To do so would result in a public lashing for Feyar, followed by banishment from the kingdom. Tanish had no clue as to what his father would do to him. As far as he knew, no person of royal blood had ever broken that law.
Tanish would not do anything that would bring pain—and worse—to Feyar.
He went to his chamber, shut the door, and flung himself facedown onto his bed, rubbing his face in the silky fur that covered it.
He wanted it to be night, so he could be once more in Feyar’s strong arms.