Bee Among the Clover [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Marguerite Labbe & Fae Sutherland
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Roman, a slave to Wulfgar, is less than pleased when the thane acquires a new pet: the beautiful and prideful Aron. Aron has never been with a man and has no wish to be now, but when he is claimed as a thrall to pay his father's debt, his choice in the matter is lost. Captured from Roman-held Londinium four years prior, Roman has learned that life as Wulfgar's bedslave can still be sweet. He is intrigued, threatened, and ultimately frightened by Aron and his feelings for the young man as they are thrown together by both cunning plan and charmed circumstance. Roman and Aron will form a bond greater than any other claim upon them and determine that whatever the cost, they will find a way to be happy--even if that means risking their lives to find freedom together.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2010
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40 Reader Ratings:
The band of horsemen crested the hill and stopped. Though most of the harvest had been completed, there was plenty of work still to be done, and the farm below was a hive of activity. The pungent smell of wood smoke from the temporary sheds that had been erected for the long slow process of curing lay heavy in the air. Thralls and family members milled about, tying together sheaves of wheat, sorting through apples from the small orchard nearby or readying root vegetables for cold storage in the cellar.
Roman stayed at the back of the party, watching the scene and his master, Wulfgar, with unease. The thane presided with silent authority, the battle-lords and warriors of his hall gathering around him, awaiting his command.
"They seem prosperous enough, eh? Roman, come here," Wulfgar ordered curtly, turning back to look at him with narrowed eyes.
Roman's stomach lurched, but he obeyed. He didn't want to be a part of this. Had he any choice, he would much rather have been back at the hall, poring over one of the new volumes that Wulfgar had recently gifted to him. But the thane had desired his presence, and as a slave, Roman had no choice.
"My lord?" Roman asked quietly, keeping his head respectfully lowered.
"What did Sverri tithe for this year?"
Parchment rustled as Roman consulted a leather-bound ledger and recited the short list of goods the crofter had sent, knowing Wulfgar was mentally tallying up the difference. His fingers clutched the journal, his stomach churning. He had to wonder what the fate of those people down below was going to be.
"Sverri's always been a damned skinflint. This time it's going to cost him. Osric!"
Roman averted his eyes as another man rode up on the thane's left, loosening the ties on his sword. "Shall I drive them into the hills and burn the buildings?" The battle-lord's voice betrayed an eagerness Roman recognized all too well.
"Not quite yet, Osric. I want to hear what Sverri has to say for himself. Gather everyone, thrall and slaves, too, to bear witness," Wulfgar commanded, and Roman watched out of the corner of his eye as Osric relayed the thane's orders to the other battle-lords. Wulfgar raised his hand and signaled, and the warriors thundered down the hill. A man below bolted toward the crofthall, shouting a warning, and women dropped their baskets to gather the children.
Wulfgar gathered his reins. "Roman, I want you to record the proceedings." Kicking his heels to the horse's flanks, the thane rushed down after his men.
Roman tucked the book back in its place and urged his own steed into motion. The fact that Wulfgar hadn't immediately ordered the buildings razed gave him some measure of hope for the people who lived in the croft. The thane was displeased with Sverri, not the rest, but then, Wulfgar was usually reasonable once his initial anger had cooled.
By the time Roman reined in his horse at the base of the hill, Osric was at the crofthall bellowing for Sverri to come out while Wulfgar watched with a hard smile on his lips.
The thane's brows snapped together when, instead, a young man of perhaps eighteen summers stepped out. The crofter's eldest son. Roman searched his mind for his name. Ah yes, Aron.
Kicking back his heels and urging his horse forward, Wulfgar glared down at the young man. Roman admired the way Aron didn't flinch under the thane's hard gaze. That was more than could be said for most who found themselves facing Wulfgar's displeasure.
"'Twas your father who was summoned, boy. Go you and fetch him to me now."
"My lord, my father is unwell. I stand in his stead." The words were terse but respectful. Wariness marked the young man's stance as his pale blue eyes flicked between Wulfgar and the battle-lords.
Pity filled Roman. Standing in his father's stead was not likely to end well for the young man. Wulfgar's displeasure was never a pleasant thing.
Wulfgar regarded the young man, his fingers stroking the ends of his beard. The people of the croft hall, now gathered, made a mostly silent bunch as they huddled together behind their spokesperson, though Roman could occasionally hear a muttered prayer to Thunor. Osric stepped out of the dwelling and nodded his head.
"It seems you speak sooth today, boy," Wulfgar said.
Aron stiffened, his eyes flashing. "I always speak the truth, my lord," he said with quiet, intense pride.
Roman caught the way Wulfgar's eyes flared as he nodded and could see the young man's demeanor intrigued the thane. Mayhap that meant Wulfgar would be lenient.
"I value an honest man. So tell me, young Aron. Why has Sverri skimped on his tithe yet again?" The thane's voice hardened. "Haven't I protected him from those who encroached upon his borders? Haven't I been there the numerous times he's called upon me for aid?"
Aron met Wulfgar's gaze unflinchingly. "Aye, you have done all that and more, my lord." Aron glanced back toward the dwelling, reluctance in every line of his body. "My father... does not manage his resources well."
Wulfgar snorted. "I thought you said you spoke the truth. Sverri is a greedy bastard who insults my intelligence. Unlucky for you and yours he chose this day to fall ill. You know the penalty for thievery, do you not?"
Roman saw the young man pale, and the familiar smile on Wulfgar's face told him clearly how the thane was savoring Aron's reaction. He also knew the thane well enough to know he wasn't going to take Sverri's hand if he was sick. The shock might kill him, and Wulfgar would be unwilling to pay a weregild for the likes of Sverri Eriksson. He wouldn't cripple the young man for standing in his stead either. Roman was curious to see what Wulfgar would do under such circumstances. Mayhap he'd give the family leave to pay in the spring.
Wulfgar nodded to Osric. "Bring Sverri and burn them out." Roman bit his lip, concentrating on the journal in his lap. It was going be a hard winter for Aron's people.
"No! You cannot!"
Roman's head jerked up at the sharp cry. Aron's stance was defiant as his wide eyes darted between Wulfgar's men, who made ready to follow orders and moved toward the mud and wattle croft hall. It had not rained in days, and the thatch would ignite quickly.
Wulfgar's brows arched with a humorless laugh. "I cannot? You forget yourself, boy. The decision is not up for debate." The thane gestured to Osric, but Aron darted forward, skidding to a halt when the thane's men unsheathed their swords.
Aron's startling blue eyes locked on Wulfgar, and his chin tilted with a stubborn angle. "Let me fight your champion. If I win, then you leave our home standing." He narrowed his eyes in a fierce challenge. "What do you have to fear from an untrained crofter like me?"
Roman's breath caught, and he almost spilled ink on his tunic. Sweet Jesu, Aron was going to get himself killed. Roman admired the young man's courage, but Aron was daft if he thought he could win.
"Accepted. Osric, to me." Wulfgar swung down off his horse as Osric approached. "Try not to wound him too badly, if you can. I believe I have plans for this one." The thane spoke quietly, but Roman heard as well. He had years of practice. He froze as the implication of Wulfgar's tone became clear, drawing a steadying breath and focusing on his transcribing.
Osric nodded and turned, drawing his sword with a vicious grin.
Wulfgar's eyes gleamed as he studied Aron, and Roman's stomach clenched as he glanced at the young man and saw him as Wulfgar would. Aron was pretty for a lad, almost too pretty, with his smooth skin and clear blue eyes, and his obvious pride would call to Wulfgar's instincts.
Someone had tossed the young man a sword. Roman watched as Aron swung it a couple of times experimentally. It looked as if he'd handled one before, but it really didn't matter. Only one person had ever beaten Osric. Roman couldn't miss the look in Wulfgar's eyes. He saw it every time the thane took him to bed, only for the first time in years, it wasn't directed toward him. Roman was sure Aron's fate would come down to one of Wulfgar's infamous impossible choices. Things usually did.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Roman turned his attention back to the ongoing fight. Aron's instincts impressed him. The young man had quick wrists and feet, and his determination didn't falter as Osric played with him, forcing him back. He bit his lip at the soft cries of the womenfolk as Osric struck a stinging blow to Aron's sword, knocking it out of his hand. The young man rolled out of the way of Osric's downswing, gathering up his sword as he rose to his feet again.
Roman started to smile, then quickly banished it. He knew Aron wouldn't win, but he was tempted to cheer him on. Aron started swinging with less precision, struggling to land a blow on Osric as his frustration grew. Roman's stomach knotted, and he found himself unable to look away, all but holding his breath until Wulfgar signaled Osric to end it.
Osric came at the young man with a flurry of blows that Aron tried to fend off, but the outcome was inevitable, and soon the young man fell to his knees, empty-handed. Osric's blade pressed against his bare throat, just nicking the skin so that a drop of red stood starkly against his fairness. Aron glared up at Wulfgar, his pride intact even though his shoulders heaved as he tried to catch his breath. Roman bit his lip and looked away at the flash of excitement in the thane's eyes.
"You lose," Wulfgar said, moving his horse close so he loomed over the boy.
Roman's quill hovered over the page, glancing at the young man who only continued to glare at Wulfgar. He couldn't recall anyone glaring at Wulfgar so hatefully and getting away with it. Aron knelt there, and Roman could see in his eyes the mixture of bravado, fear, and failure at having lost. He remembered those feelings, sweet Jesu, did he. Though really, there was no shame in it. Osric's skills with a blade were legendary.
Wulfgar waved his hand, and Osric lowered his blade, sheathing it and stepping back. For a moment, Aron remained on his knees, then rose warily.
The thane let the boy stew for a while, saying nothing and making no move to order his men to finish the job before finally breaking the silence. "It takes courage to challenge me, boy, but unfortunately courage will not save your family and home." A slow smirk curved his lips. "However, I'm going to grant you another chance to do so." Aron's eyes grew even more wary, and Roman's apprehension rose as Wulfgar continued.
"You have a choice, young Aron. Your family dispossessed and your home burned to the ground as I intended, or you return with me to my hall for a period of one year as my thrall." The thane's smile was slow, as if amused by the righteous fury that rose in the young man's eyes. "Make your choice, boy, and make it quickly."
"That is no choice, and well you know it. My lord," Aron ground out, shaking in fury.
A stab of resentment twisted inside Roman. At least Aron had a choice, even if it might temporarily strip him of his dignity. It was still a choice.
"No!" a feminine voice cried out.
Roman immediately regretted his harsh thoughts when, at the sound of the voice, the young man's eyes closed, sorrow clear on his youthful face. A woman broke away from the small crowd of people and rushed to Aron's side, dropping to her knees before him. She wrapped her arms tightly around the young man's waist, and he opened his eyes to look down at her. "You must not, Aron." She cast a frightened look in the thane's direction. "Not with him," she whispered frantically. "Please, my son. We will manage."
Roman watched as the young man drew a steadying breath and met the thane's gaze. "I agree to your terms," he said, his eyes snapping cold blue fire. He had to force the words out, and he didn't look at his mother as he said them.
"Good choice, Aron Sverrison," Wulfgar said. "Somebody get him a horse." He turned away from the scene, discounting the crofters' presence to talk with his men.
Roman blew on the ink to dry it before stowing the journal away in his pack. He noticed Wulfgar had failed to mention what Aron's new duties would be and wondered if the young man would have been as quick to agree.
"Sverri!" Wulfgar roared, standing up in his stirrups and addressing the silent dwelling. Aron's mother wept in the background. "Next time I have to come back here, it will not be your son you forfeit."
Wulfgar sat back in his saddle as the croft's thralls brought out Aron's horse. Roman looked away as the young man shook off his mother's desperate grasp, his heart twisting in sympathy.
Roman hung back as the group started toward the hall, lost in his own thoughts. This was going to change things, and he couldn't help the apprehension that shattered his usual calm. Change never boded well, he'd come to learn. The worries followed him as he urged his horse forward.
Aron surveyed the group as they rode. He had them all figured out, save one: a slim young man who rode toward the back, who was called up to Wulfgar's side every so often, only to quickly return to his place. Aron wasn't sure of the young man's position. His collar said slave, and yet why would a slave have been brought on an outing such as this?
Aron couldn't deny the little swell of excitement as the group neared Wulfgar's hall. Captivity was not in his nature, and he hated the idea of it, but at the same time, being surrounded by warriors, action, and tales of adventure was something of which he'd always secretly dreamed. He had no illusions that his new life would be an easy one, but he couldn't deny looking forward to something, someplace, other than his daily existence.
He greedily took in the sight of the mead hall as they passed through the main gate. It was easily four times the size of his father's. The horses drew to a halt, and Aron scowled when Osric gave him a barked order to "Get off the bloody horse."
He dismounted and bit back a sharp retort. He reminded himself that he wasn't a slave and that it was only for a year.
Wulfgar dismounted, tossing his reins to a waiting thrall. "Boy, Roman. Follow me."
The thane made his way into the mead hall without looking back, and Aron hurried to follow, inwardly seething. He had a name. As Wulfgar strode through the hall, Aron glimpsed long trestle tables and a great fireplace that emanated succulent odors, but the thane moved too quickly for him to get much of a chance to look around.
The three of them entered another room, and Wulfgar sat down on the edge of a massive, fur-covered bed. There was a table neatly stacked with books and scrolls, and another large fire warmed the chamber. Aron guessed this must be Wulfgar's private room. He'd heard of such things, but in his home, the entire family shared a single space.
"Roman, fetch another collar that will fit our arrogant puppy here." The slim, dark man next to the door nodded and slipped off. Aron narrowed his eyes at Wulfgar.
"I thought you said I was a thrall. Thralls don't wear collars. My lord." It took every bit of willpower he possessed to remain respectful.
Humor sparkled in Wulfgar's gray eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest. "You are a thrall, boy, but you'll wear a collar because I wish to see it on you. Let me get one thing straight between us. Outside of this room, you're free to do as you wish, as long as you show me and the other battle-lords proper respect. Inside this room, I want your complete submission. Defiance will bring about swift punishment, I promise you that."
Aron blinked, certain he'd misheard. Wulfgar couldn't be implying what he thought he was. His tone was hesitant, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What do you mean, 'complete submission'?" He prayed Wulfgar referred to dressing him or cleaning his room, something mundane. The thane's cocked brow said otherwise.
Aron's temper flared, and he shook his head. "No! This isn't what I agreed to, and well you know it!"
Wulfgar rose from the bed, glowering. "You agreed to become my thrall for one year, boy, and this is the duty I desire of you. You'll perform to my liking or you'll find your family burned out."
Aron's heart pounded. He couldn't do this; he wouldn't. He shook his head again. "I tell you, no!"
Wulfgar struck him across the cheek. Aron's hand came up to touch his face, fury coiling in his stomach. The fury was forgotten when Wulfgar spoke. "You will." His tone brooked no disobedience. "And until you learn to accept your place, you've lost the privilege of clothing. Now strip, boy." There was a hard twist to his lips. "I'd like to see what my benevolence has brought me."
Aron stared incredulously. He'd heard rumors about the thane's sexual practices, but he hadn't believed them. Impatience simmered in Wulfgar's gray eyes, and Aron refused to have his clothes torn from him. He squared his chin and drew his tunic over his head, dropping it to the floor, face impassive.
Aron did his best to feign submission, but his heart pounded as he scowled and bent to unwind the crossties around his boots, drawing them off before straightening. His hands hovered at the waist of his trews, but he could not bring himself to draw them down. It was as if his body would not obey his mind's orders.
His hesitation was brought to an abrupt end when Wulfgar's voice rang out, calm but firm. "I'm waiting, Aron." Aron met implacable gray eyes and flushed slightly before drawing down his breeches with angry, jerky motions. He kicked them aside to join his discarded tunic and sneered.
"Do you like what you see, my lord?" Aron fought the urge to cover himself. The flush of embarrassment climbed higher as Wulfgar slowly looked him over; he'd never felt more exposed and ashamed of his nakedness. His gaze fixed on the opposite wall as the thane circled him.
"Tell me, boy, would you have decided differently if I'd given you the full terms of your duties right there in front of your kith and kin?" Aron flinched away from Wulfgar's breath, hot and moist against his neck. "I think not," Wulfgar continued, returning to the edge of the bed. "You have honor in you that your father never possessed. You'll serve me for a year and then return home."
Aron glowered at Wulfgar and then averted his eyes. The door opened, and the natural instinct to cover himself surged stronger as the young man, Roman, crossed to his master and handed him an object.
Aron's eyes narrowed on the worked leather collar, denial raging in him. A collar was the mark of a slave, and he was no slave. He shouldn't be forced to wear one at all. But there was no use in arguing, he knew, as Wulfgar gestured him over.
Aron reluctantly moved closer, trying his best to hide the fear that whipped through him. He wanted to scream at him, "No! No, I will not!" but couldn't and pressed his lips together to keep the words in. He tilted his chin, refusing to cower as the thane rose from the bed.
Aron strove to keep his expression blank of anything but defiance as Wulfgar snapped the collar closed around his throat. Inside, however, he felt like he was suffocating. He wanted to claw at the unfamiliar weight and tear it from his body. He managed, however, to remain unmoving.
It wasn't until he heard another sound that he reacted, eyes flicking down and seeing a leash attached to the collar. Fury erupted in him. He was no animal! He planted his hands on the thane's chest and shoved hard, gaining enough distance to slam a fist into the other man's jaw. Aron tried to jerk the leash from Wulfgar's grip frantically, snarling the entire time.
Wulfgar only laughed, rubbing his jaw and yanking on the leash until Aron was pressed up against him. Aron struggled, but the thane simply curled one strong arm around him so that his arms were crushed to his sides. Aron hissed in fury, cursing him without thought. The thane waited and finally gave a sigh that rang with irritation. "This is getting you absolutely nowhere, boy, and my patience is wearing very thin."
"I'm not your dog or an animal you can drag around on a leash," Aron spat.
Wulfgar released the leash and backhanded Aron hard, knocking him toward the bed. Aron dropped to one knee, pain exploding across his cheek and stealing his breath.
"You are whatever I say you are. Today you're my bed slave; tomorrow, who knows what I'll choose to do with you. Much of that depends upon your tongue and how you choose to use it."
Aron held his cheek. He glared up at the thane, catching Roman's silently pleading look as he rose back to his feet in defiance. "Beat me if you want, but I will not be your whore."
Wulfgar smirked. "Very well. Roman, fetch Osric. He'll be pleased to finish the burning out."
Impotent fury roiled within Aron. He cursed, knowing he was caught. His jaw clenched tight, and his belly twisted in fear, anger, and disgust.
"Don't, my lord. I'll do what you ask." His voice was low and controlled, dripping with barely leashed fury. Wulfgar hadn't asked, but nonetheless, Aron would do it. And curse his father with every breath.
Wulfgar nodded. "Good. I thought you'd see reason. Both of you will sit with me during the evening meal and, depending upon how you acquit yourself tonight, boy, I may allow you to wear clothes tomorrow."
Aron's flush deepened as he realized that he was expected to parade himself in front of the others wearing nothing but the collar and leash. Wulfgar arched a brow, and Aron pressed his lips together to keep his thoughts from escaping. It wouldn't do any good, and he wasn't going to give the man more entertainment than he already had.
"It seems you do know how to shut your mouth when you must." Wulfgar wound Aron's leash around his fist, reeling him in. Aron stiffened, then moved forward without protest, though inwardly he screamed. He fought to control the trembling, but it was hopeless. Panic gripped him, and he had a vision of snatching up the sword at Wulfgar's waist and driving it through the man's chest. At least he wouldn't be forced to endure this humiliation, and his own subsequent death would likely be quick.
Aron caught movement out of the corner of his eye, seeing Roman shrinking back into the shadows, sympathy on his face. More fury rose inside Aron. He did not want pity, not from a slave who stood there and did nothing while this happened.
When Aron was flush up against the thane's body, Wulfgar gripped the leash at the base of the collar. Aron's breath came quickly from both anger and fear, and he tightened his jaw, glaring up at him.
The thane chuckled. "Let's test this newfound obedience of yours, boy. Kiss me."
Aron stiffened, fists tightening at his sides. He didn't move at first; then, glaring daggers the entire time, he stretched up and pressed his lips to Wulfgar's briefly before beginning to pull back. Wulfgar's arm tightened around Aron before he could, hauling him up and forcing his hard lips to close over the young man's again.
Aron let out an indignant growl and squirmed, but to no avail. Wulfgar was insistent and kissed him possessively. Nausea rolled in his stomach, and he refused to open his mouth as Wulfgar's tongue licked at his lips. The thane's hand came up to his jaw, applying firm pressure and forcing his mouth open.
Aron's struggles renewed at the invasion of the other man's tongue, and he cursed impotently against the thane's lips. He might as well have been fighting with a dragon for all the good it did him. Wulfgar tightened his grip around his waist and continued to plunder his mouth like a prize.
When Wulfgar finally released him, Aron stumbled back, gasping for breath and wiping at his mouth. Wulfgar grabbed his leash and jerked him close again.
"I don't care whether you find pleasure in my bed, boy, but to be there is an honor, and you'll treat it as such." The thane's voice was low and his eyes an icy gray, before he shoved him away again, glancing across the room where Roman stood in the shadowy corner. "Roman. Come here."
Aron watched as the slim, dark man approached without hesitation, and Wulfgar smiled, clearly pleased with Roman's obedience.
"Show him how it should be done, Roman." Wulfgar drew the young man against him and cast Aron a dark look. "Learn well, boy."
Aron's eyes widened as Roman's arms twined around Wulfgar's neck and he lifted his lips to be kissed. Aron watched them, his mind spinning. Roman didn't seem to be disgusted in the least at Wulfgar's attentions.
Aron frowned, crossing his arms. They were welcome to each other.
Wulfgar raised his head, keeping his arms around Roman, and fixed his eyes on Aron. "That was no hardship, was it?"
Roman shook his head. "It was my pleasure, my lord," he said, keeping his head down, his eyes averted from Aron's. Wulfgar released the slave, motioning him away with a slap to his flank.
Aron shook his head. He might have to obey Wulfgar, but he'd never do so meekly. "I am not him." Roman was a slave; he was not. Wulfgar might get what he wanted, but he wouldn't get it without a fight.
"No, but I'm enjoying the challenge. One day, you'll submit as readily as he does. Come 'ere, boy. Let's try that again."
Aron cursed under his breath. How long would this nightmare go on? His feet were reluctant as he moved toward Wulfgar, desperately seeking some sort of escape. When he got close enough, Wulfgar grabbed his leash again, hauling him closer.
"My lord, they're waiting for us in the hall." Roman's voice was quiet from his spot beside the door.
Aron was undecided as to whether to be grateful for that interruption or unhappy about it, as he remembered how he was expected to appear in the hall. He looked up at Wulfgar and saw him scowl and nod.
"Indeed they are. Come, both of you." He gave Aron a slow look from head to toe and smirked.