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eBook by Clare London
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: A powerful but pampered lord, Chariz has no interest in a single slave thrown at his feet, until he finds out the man is no slave at all. Oriel may be an empath--or a Magician--or a charlatan, even, and his mysterious allure draws Chariz closer. But Oriel's touch is a prize that others crave, too, putting him in mortal danger. Chariz must decide whether he will pay the price of Oriel soothing his desires and needs, when that price may demand a shocking sacrifice... from them both.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2010
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13 Reader Ratings:
My dream moved in the middle of the night like blood: smooth and thick, seeping through my body as I slept, its tendrils warm and wicked. I couldn't ignore it; I couldn't protect myself against it, for it possessed me. And pain followed in its wake, as vivid as the fear and shock associated with a sudden flow of real blood.
The small hand that nestled in my palm started to slip away. It took its warmth and comfort with it. Loss stripped me of its company and bereaved me of its love. I couldn't do anything to cling to it, for my body was weak and my mind confused. And then the anguish struck.
It's a dream.
I knew that in both my head and my heart, but the hurt felt real. How could that be? My eyes ached, my ears hummed. A youthful voice echoed around me, laughing and crying by turns, but no one ever came into view. The sound was fading fast.
I was determined to move this time, to fight back, to keep that tiny hand within my grasp, but I seemed unable to control my limbs properly. Wherever I lay, I was wracked with discomfort, and every movement felt clumsy. Frustration! Too hot, too cold, near or distant, I had no idea what or where I was.
But for one last, marvelous moment, the fingers of that small hand brushed against mine, the plump fingertips still tickling my skin.
The love was still there. It understood. It was still mine. It cared.
And then I awoke, panting, my hands fisted around empty air and my naked body straining to reach something that didn't exist. My bed linens were crumpled and sweat-stained beneath me. I would have cried aloud if there'd been anyone to hear, but I was alone. The dream only came when I was without company, as if it knew when I was at my most vulnerable. I pulled myself up to sit against the head of my bed, clutching the edge of the mattress with a shaky hand, waiting for the thudding of my heart to ease and the familiarity of my bedchamber to return my senses to me.
Even with company, I was always alone. I recognized the truth of that with sudden, sharp bitterness. I'd lost that unconditional, innocent love a long time ago and had never recovered it. Or my own capacity for compassion, some might say. But there were few people who knew me well enough to make such criticism, or who dared to. And I had no time for such weakness nowadays, such vulnerability. I didn't deserve it.
Chariz... a lingering whisper chastised me, but I shook my head, fully awake by now. Just a dream. Of course.
But the tears on my cheeks took far longer to dry.
"He's nothing but another slave," I said sourly.
The sun had passed the midday point hours ago, but my head still hurt badly from the late night before. There'd been heavily spiced food at the Council festival and excessive wine, rich as bull's blood. I'd felt lethargic all day, though that was to be expected after the overnight attentions of an enthusiastic bedmate... or three. I had a grain-trade meeting set for early evening, but at that moment I knew I probably wouldn't turn up. It wouldn't be the first time I had neglected my pompous Council duties as Chancellor.
And now my servants had burst into the anteroom of my private quarters and flung a jumble of bone and flesh at my feet, all of it accompanied by their excited jabbering. The noise jarred on my sensitive ears. I was in poor humor for visitors, and they should have known it. I might personally break the limbs of at least one of them, but perhaps not until I felt more physically robust.
Hul saw my look; he knew me perhaps the best. He had been with me for over a full Earth season-set, and that was quite an impressive reference for a servant of my department.
"See him for yourself, Chancellor Chariz," he insisted. The others fell silent around him, as they were used to following his lead. "The Lady's housemaids were taking him to her quarters, but we told them he had to be interrogated first." He nudged at the captive on the floor with his boot. "Kneel up before the Chancellor, idiot, like I told you."
I ran an aimless hand through my thick hair and glanced at the heap of cloth and limbs beneath me. Despite my youth, I was used to seeing groveling. I'd been appointed to a senior position in the household as soon as I reached adulthood, when many men toiled for the same honor for another twenty season-sets. I was therefore used to debasement before me. It bored me, of course--but then, there wasn't much in life that didn't, and Hul knew that.
"He's still nothing but a slave," I said.
I stepped around a chair that was piled high with official papers, and I saw one of the other servants cringe back before me. I was unusually tall for my race and strongly built, and I knew my look was angry. I wore my rich velvet cloak with the heavy neck chain of my Council position, and I knew how impressive I appeared to the lower castes. In fact, I often played upon it.
"I have plenty of slaves, Hul. Boys who groom my horses, girls who serve my food, young men who spread their gangly limbs for me at night so I can relax for a good moon's sleep. I'm sure the Lady of the household has plenty, too, for I know for a fact her appetite is as mature as my own."
One of my other servants flushed, and I knew then who was the Lady's favorite this moon phase. I appraised him quickly and decided he was barely worth the effort. Maybe he would be the one I whipped in punishment for disturbing me today. He was a slender, brown-eyed youth who seemed unable to do anything but wring his hands nervously all the time he was in my presence. But then the Lady of the household--who, to my chagrin, was also my mother--was known for choosing her bedmates by quantity rather than quality. There were many who said that was one of the few traits of hers that I'd inherited. I didn't challenge them. Didn't it suit me to be thought of as too self-indulgent to care?
Hul sulked a little. "Believe me, Chancellor, I wouldn't have brought you just another lackey. The barracks have been gossiping about him ever since they brought him in, and the kitchens are bubbling with curiosity. Even the Magicians are disturbed--"
His sly gaze turned to me. I knew he saw the tease of a smile at the corners of my mouth. It was a favorite pastime of mine, the baiting of the Magicians' caste. "Yes, Chancellor. They are very disturbed."
I sighed exaggeratedly. "So what is it about him?" I nudged the body myself with my buckled boot. The tangled legs sprawled apart, and the young man rolled on to his back on the wooden floor. His eyes darted up to catch mine, and for a second the breath caught in my throat.
"His skin is pale," I said, my voice sounding a little hoarse. "Like a city dweller. But he has... those unusual eyes. A most unattractive combination. I see no evidence of useful strength, no hint of amusing perversion. If he's just another tedious empath...." I turned sharply on Hul. "The Council has a flock of them already, supplicants clinging to the coattails and sucking at the cocks of the Magicians. I've no interest in breeding my own such sacrificial lambs."
"No, sir," Hul insisted, though he winced at my crudeness. He was, of course, well used to my anger, and I often made it clear I hated to waste my diplomatic talents on the lesser castes. "He doesn't ask to join the apprentices, Chancellor. He's something different."
Hul wasn't a fanciful man. He had come to the household as a boy from the farms, bartered by his family for the promise of a few coins. He had no empathetic skills himself to offer the Magicians, but as he grew to manhood, he'd been an adequate groom on my mother's staff and then an agile if unimaginative bedmate for me. When I swiftly tired of that, he begged to remain on my staff and serve me. He had a finely honed sense of duty and had brought me many interesting things in the past, both people and objects, all to assuage my boredom, if only for a dragonfly's snatch of time.
I looked again at the creature now kneeling before me, his head dipped to his thighs, his hands crossed behind his back in the traditional pose of submission. His head was bare, and his long, dark hair was ill-trimmed and carelessly combed. He was probably as tall as me, but his shoulders were no broader than a girl's, and I could see his skin stretched thinly over the awkward knobs of his young spine. He'd been stripped to the waist in the manner of my own household servants, and his trousers were far too large, held tightly around his waist with additional cords. I saw a couple of fresh red welts on his lean torso.
"So did you taste him, Hul?" I asked softly. "How was he?" One of the other servants whimpered with embarrassment, but Hul flushed and shook his head.
"He's been well used at the barracks, Chancellor," he said. "He was accepting of the attention, so it seems he's been fair game. But we haven't used him at all, just found him the trousers and cleaned him up a bit. Any bruises he has are from the soldiers, believe me."
I raised an eyebrow. A young man already used to surrender--not even the promise of seduction to tantalize me. In my opinion, the day was deteriorating rapidly.
"He is an empath, though," I said. I had felt the thread between us as he caught my eye. I knew that I was susceptible to them, being partly empathetic myself, a dubious inheritance from my father. "I have no time for those who try to read my mind and blend my emotions on their own blank canvas. I don't have my mother's tolerance for such nonsense."
"I wouldn't dare suggest such a thing, Chancellor," Hul said hurriedly. "That's business for the Magicians, no one else. But word says that they're already aware of him, that the tales from the barracks have made them nervous of what he can do...."
"Word drops from your mouth like drool after clumsy self-pleasure," I drawled, gazing down at the prisoner.
Hul bit his lip. "Has the Chancellor suffered more broken nights this season?" He lowered his voice as if he didn't want the others to hear. "Your rest has been disturbed too often, maybe? Your entertainment last night was lively, I know, but your mood today is uncertain and your expression particularly strained--"
I whirled around to face him again and he flinched. For a second, and to my horror, I caught a flicker of pity in his eyes. He had, indeed, known me a long time. "How dare you imply--"
"Nothing, sir, nothing, I assure you."
I frowned. "Come back later with something to soothe this pain in my head. That's all I suffer with. And tell me the whole story of this unfortunate peasant. Swiftly. You may notice my patience is also particularly strained."
Hul bowed his head, obviously glad to have forestalled the worst of my anger. "The senior captain of the garrison who captured him protests that the youngster used his powers on him. That he... influenced him."
"What?" I spared another glance for the man at my feet. "A pathetic crumb of insignificance like this? It was probably just a lewd joke over ale in the barrack room. A strong soldier moaning like a violated kitchen maid? I think not." It just illustrated the lack of imagination in our military ranks. So many tales abounded of magic and memory call, but when faced with it in reality, the commoners crumpled in blubbering fear.
I yawned, intending my servants to see it as a sign of boredom, not tiredness. Empathy was an innate gift, but its application nowadays was nothing but a trick, of course. It was a skill both learned and worked, like that of weaving or weaponry or making eager bedmates whimper aloud as they were peeled open like rich, moist fruit. I had spoken often and passionately to the Lady about the Magicians. My opinion was that she should never have allowed them sanctuary in the city, as they were subversive and attracted all manner of detritus to our land, trails of men seeking an easy answer to the pathetic dissatisfactions of their lives.
However, her response to these complaints rarely altered. I had to admire my mother's consistency, even in matters of hypocrisy. She thought I should confine my skeptical opinions to my "midnight meetings," as she scornfully referred to my extensive time in the bedchamber. I should be mindful of the rich sinecure I earned as a Chancellor, which allowed my current lifestyle of "indolence and sexual depravity"--her words again. The usual result of our confrontations was that I would back down on the argument with my frustration unappeased. Amusingly enough, the job of Chancellor to the Treasury was one that I did well, albeit with sporadic commitment, but it had been awarded under her personal patronage in the first place and could, presumably, be just as imperiously taken away.
As I languidly stretched a hand to my mouth, I felt the captive's body quiver beneath my gaze.
"Your assessment is wise, Chancellor Chariz," Hul said smoothly. "But as I said, he's caused a large amount of disruption and has been hastily passed from garrison to Council Offices. The senior captain who complained is currently under suspension. He left his post while on duty to follow the prisoner and seek a further meeting with him." I raised a curious eyebrow. Hul's gaze flickered to the figure on the floor and was then snatched back again as if the mere glance scalded him. "His skills seem very strong."
"So I assume that he sees things." I sighed. It was nothing new. Any well-trained empath could mimic the fortuneteller. I'd even done it myself sometimes to amuse gullible bedmates. "He sees a man's thoughts, his dreams, and his desires--"
"No," said Hul, very sharply now. "He makes them happen."