The Prince of Winds [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Tali Spencer
eBook Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
eBook Description: Rimmon may be an eagle warrior, but he's never known war, and he's never known love--until his kingdom's army is destroyed by Ekari, the demon of winds, and he is captured by Melkor, one of the Iron Horde that has been killing off the world's gods. Those gods have cursed Melkor and his brothers to be conquerors and never to be loved, but Melkor, hoping to overcome his fate, carries Rimmon off to his island. There, he heals Rimmon's wounds and teaches him about sexual pleasure, earning the young warrior's trust and fanning the flames of an attraction both men yearn to embrace. But the curses of vengeful gods are difficult to break, especially when Rimmon discovers Melkor is the demon who destroyed his home.
An unauthorized version of this book was previously published under the title The Prince of Desire: Persian Prince Adventure by Forever Amber Press.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2012
* * * *
Cyclones churned the battlefield, kicking up sand to hide the enemy. The hundred-strong wing of Akeled war eagles wheeled, but the wind caught them up like dry leaves, cascading the mighty birds downward in a sickening red swirl. Scores of eagles, wings broken, plummeted to earth. The rest vanished, carried away, obscured by howling columns of sand.
Ayet! Rimmon frantically sought to link with his eagle but encountered only vision-flashes of confusion, pinions, and swirling debris. The roar of wind filled his ears. He hooked a scarf over his nose and mouth to block out the sand, raising his gauntleted left forearm against his brow to shield his eyes. Blinded by dust, the horses pulling the chariot trumpeted fear and battled to kick over the traces. His childhood friend and now his driver, Xarek, fought to control the beasts, to keep the scythed wheels of the vehicle from making contact with other units.
Though he had been training to be an eagle warrior for four of his twenty years, Rimmon had only engaged in battle twice. Both times he had flown Ayet in reconnaissance against smaller enemy forces, easily overwhelmed by his battalion's veteran eagles and warriors. This time was different.
Now at last they had met the Iron Horde's main army, commanded by its demon princes: one of lightning, one of water, one of wind.
"This is the work of Ekari!" Xar thundered, naming the demon to blame. Brown hair littered with dust plastered to his forehead, Xar's strong arms bulged with muscle as he fought to govern the horses. "This is a demon's wind!"
Whether it was the spirit of battle or the activity of the wind, Xar looked magnificent. He possessed a warrior's confidence and the beauty of one of the gods of the plains come to life. Rimmon had loved him from the day they met and loved him still, though Xar had chosen another.
In the distance, unnatural lightning struck the earthwork walls of the city the Akeled soldiers defended.
The wind shifted, a sudden gust driving directly into the chariot-mounted unit. Hordish arrows, a hell of spinning broadheads, descended upon them. Xar staggered, releasing the reins. Rimmon lunged for the leather straps, half falling over the front brace before grabbing them up, slick with blood. Looking around, he saw Xar's hands groping at a fountain of red where an arrow had torn away the side of his neck. Red spurted in great gouts, spraying Rimmon's right side and face as his friend gurgled and struggled for breath. Though he controlled the horses, Rimmon could do nothing for Xar except watch him slump to the floor, dying with terror on his face.
The chariot units had been instructed before battle to jettison corpses, get rid of dead weight. Rimmon rebelled. He would not kick his friend's body out onto the sand where it would be pickings for Hordish slaves.
The battalion commander, his red crest just a suggestion against curtains of wind-driven dust, signaled retreat. Glazed with Xar's blood, Rimmon hauled hard on the reins, but the chariot swung wide before he succeeded in turning the horses. He had only just succeeded when the flying sand to their left gave birth to a cyclone that slammed into the wing, sending his chariot crashing into a gully. He flew through the air and landed in a fury of breaking wood and screaming horses; he heard before he felt the sickening snap of his leg. Pain cracked through his skull and ribs. The demon wind ripped at his clothes and skin, then moved on, and the battle moved with it, leaving him lying amidst wreckage. One of his chariot's four horses thrashed nearby, its deep chest impaled upon the blades of a scythed wheel. All around him lay other horses, other chariots, and other men. A few more horses galloped off, ghost-like, into the gusts of sand, dragging their traces.
Pain stabbing his every breath, Rimmon struggled up onto one arm. His left leg twisted unnaturally above the ankle, and his left side and upper arm bled where one of the scythes had gashed him deeply through his leather armor. He looked up the incline of the gully into which he had fallen, knowing his problems were not over. The enemy would descend soon, following the wind in search of fallen soldiers, trophies, and gold. Teeth clenched, Rimmon tore off his sash, heavy with golden eagle medallions, and tossed it aside along with his gold-covered helmet and bracelets of rank. Shining things would just glint and give him away. On arms and knees, even though his left leg dragged and the pain soon made him vomit, he crawled along the gully's course until he was as far from the carnage as his body would take him. When at last his strength gave out, he rolled into a hollow beneath some heavy brush, where he clutched his dagger against discovery and waited until nightfall.
Night provided cover, so Rimmon risked moving again. The gully opened onto the lowlands, and the wails of men crying for help faded behind him. Most cries were quickly silenced. Drums loudly heralded the Hordish presence, coming nearer at one point but then retreating. Though he stopped often to rest, Rimmon crawled toward the river, hoping to find water and the reserve units commanded by his brother. Had any of his family survived?
As dawn cleared the mountains and long-toothed shadows of pale rose covered the now silent land, Rimmon gained the protection of an eroded outcrop within a half-league of the river. Keeping to the shelter of the outcrop's weathered brown rocks, he sought higher ground from which to survey his situation. It was midday before he managed to clear the rise, his body scraped by rock, his lower left leg swollen to grotesque size and pounding with pain.
Across the trampled plain loomed the outer crags of the Akeled capital of Kossa. Great gouges blackened the breached walls. Fires burned in the city, spilling smoke into a sky barren of eagles. Black-robed Hordish invaders covered the plain like a creeping flood.
He was a dead man.
His mother and father, his brothers and sisters... the Horde would show them no mercy. Their demon king, Sarduk, had slaughtered the royal families of every domain he had conquered.
An ear-piercing shriek split the sky overhead, echoing off the stones of the outcrop. Heart leaping, Rimmon looked up, reflexively holding out his leather-gauntleted left arm. His eagle! Pain ripped through his side from the motion, but he kept his arm extended. A shadow descended upon him swiftly, covering him, darkening the rocks to either side. Air pushed by powerful red wings fanned his face just before golden talons longer than his fingers gripped his hand and forearm. The eagle's weight, that of a two-year-old child, awakened fresh pain in his wounded arm, and he lowered both gently to the ground.
"Ayet," he whispered, overjoyed. He'd thought her killed by the wind! With pain blunting his mind, he had not been focusing on their bond.
The war eagle cocked her head at him, scrutinizing him with a tawny eye. Rimmon stroked his ungloved right finger over the gritty feathering of her throat while Ayet stretched her neck. So much sand!
"Are you all right, girl?" he asked. His right hand skimmed her wings, seeking out broken bones or damaged feathers. Ayet had only a few of the latter. She extended her head toward him, her great curved beak gently nipping his earlobe, letting him know she was hungry.
"You'll have to hunt." He had lost his sack of reward meat on the battlefield.
It would be dangerous to send her out even to hunt. The Horde army still in the field would shoot war eagles on sight. Perhaps, if he sent her across the river....
Rimmon urged Ayet off his arm and, bracing his right foot against a boulder, angled to hands and knees. Wincing against fresh pain awakened by his movements, he crept around the side of the outcrop, being careful to stay low and out of sight until he could look down upon the reed-lined bank of the river. Winter snows could not have so frozen his blood.
Hundreds of soldiers, thousands, wearing the black robes of the Horde that made them look like vultures, gathered at the water's edge. Avenues of war tents lined the bank, red as the sea of blood their occupants had spilled across the lands under the Known Sky.
* * * *
Melkor squatted to wash his hands in the icy water of the river. He had never known colder water, a bright, clear stream out of the snow-capped mountains that encircled this arid but beautiful land. His brother, Sarduk, had been adamant about taking this mountain stronghold of Ake. The small but ancient kingdom sat astride important trade routes--and, more vitally, the mountain passes Sarduk required if he were to conquer the distant and surpassingly wealthy empire of Irup.
A pity they chose not to become allies. Instead, the proud Akeleds had placed their faith in the strength of their mountains and the legendary prowess of their eagles.
A pity they chose not to believe the tales told by the conquered.
But then, the conquered told many different tales. Refugees told of blue-skinned demons with black tongues and fiery eyes, wearing crowns of bones. They told of rains of toads and of armies and fleets swept away by towering waves and raging rivers. The Akeled king, secure in his steep mountains, had boasted he did not fear floods. Salt, the greatest empire under the Known Sky, had fallen to curtains of fire caused by demon lightning. The Akeled king had retorted his desert would not burn.
No, the Akeled army had fallen to wind. Two days ago, the red-clothed army had perished to the last man. Now Sarduk and his officers plundered the Akeled king's conquered city.
Melkor looked across the stream to where an eagle perched on a large rock, dipping and shaking something in the water. In all his thirty-two years, he had never seen such a magnificent bird--its wingspan greater than the arm spans of two men standing fingertip to fingertip, russet feathers glinting with golden highlights in the sun--even the creature's talons and beak appeared to be of purest gold.
"What do you think?" Bodhan asked. The man with the dark eyes and curling black beard was his court physician as well as his friend. "Might it be one of their fighting eagles?"
The eagle flew off, bearing away in its beak whatever white thing it had been washing.
"It has the look of one. I can't believe we killed them all."
"You mean you killed them all," his friend corrected. "You turned the battle by summoning the wind."
Melkor nodded. He was the youngest of three brothers, all born in the same hour, gifted at birth by their goddess mother with command of the elements. Sarduk's gift was lightning. Belaam commanded water both heavenly and earthly. Melkor was the Prince of Winds. Until this conquest, his gift had been little utilized except to propel Hordish ships. Yesterday, however, Sarduk had acknowledged his contribution before the entire Horde and promised his brother a great reward: a boon of his choosing from among the spoils of conquest. He had not yet decided his choice.
Much as Melkor celebrated the Horde's march through the continent, the riches gained for its young empire and the weakening of their divine enemies, the destruction saddened him. Leaving nothing behind that could rise up against him, Sarduk had leveled cities, kingdoms, entire civilizations. Bloodlines had been extinguished, never to bear fruit. How much history, how much knowledge, was being lost?
Those gorgeous eagles, for one, commanded by men who were no more.
Movement alerted him. The eagle had returned. He nudged Bodhan. "Look," he said.
"Another prey?" The eagle raised its head from the water, something long and white dripping from its beak.
"It looks to be the same object. I don't think it's a catch."
The eagle launched again into the air. This time Melkor watched where it went. The outcrop. "Follow me," he said to Bodhan.
* * * *
In the several minutes it took Melkor and Bodhan to reach the outcrop, the eagle flew out once more. By the time it returned, they had established a vantage point from which they could survey the shadowed recess the bird frequented. Closer scrutiny revealed the half-hidden but recognizable shape of a man's torso and head.
With a snap of wings, the eagle returned again, landing upon one of the boulders. It dipped its head toward the man, placing the limp, dripping thing in its beak upon the face. They watched in amazement as a hand rose to grasp the wet cloth, which they now saw it to be, and squeezed it so a stream of drops fell.
"The creature's bringing him water!" Bodhan whispered. He stared, fascinated, at the scene.
"An eagle warrior, perhaps injured." Melkor made the logical leap. He had never heard of a raptor caring for a human, but some of the advance scouts had told tales of an uncanny bond between an Akeled warrior and his bird. To his friend he said, "The fishing boats just south of the camp--"
"Yes. I remember." As ever, Bodhan grasped his direction.
"Go back, bring some men and any nets you can find."
"Only if you promise not to attempt something foolish. Those birds are killers."
"I know that. I won't engage them. Just come back quickly."
He watched Bodhan until his friend had made a clean break toward the river. Only then did his fingers relax about the stone he'd found. Throwing a stone at an eagle was not the soundest of plans, but he had only that and a dagger as weapons. Of course, he also had the wind. He held his gift upon his tongue, tucked against the edge of his teeth.
The eagle launched again, abruptly, this time with nothing in its beak. With powerful beats of its wings, it swiftly cleared the river, headed toward the wild flats where no soldiers roamed.
It's gone to hunt, Melkor realized. Surely it would be gone long enough for him to get a better look. Staying low, he crept through the grasses to the boulders concealing the man. Mindful of the eagle and that the man he approached would be armed, he closed his fingers about the hilt of his dagger and stopped every few steps to look toward the sky.
Moving around a boulder baked hot by the sun, he looked into a hollow that afforded enough shade for a man. He saw a pale foot sandaled in sturdy brown leather, attached to a bare-skinned, scraped, and swollen leg. From ankle to knee, the flesh showed an ugly purple, the bone beneath it distorted. Broken, which explained why this Akel had not fled to a more promising location. Making sure to keep more than an arm's length from his quarry, he stepped forward to see more.
The eagle warrior was young and covered with blood. Even filthy and battered, he was beautiful. Soft waves of short red-gold hair, weighted by dust, clung to creamy skin shadowed by bruises and days-old stubble. That amazing coloring only enhanced the way chestnut eyelashes fanned upon a bloodstained cheek favored by a straight nose and pale lips so perfectly formed they begged to be kissed. Melkor stood motionless in pure admiration, appreciating why his cock swelled with interest. He had a longstanding weakness for exotic beauties. Even half-dead ones, apparently. Slowly, he lowered himself to crouching. The youth still clasped the wet cloth in his left hand, holding tightly to what his eagle had brought. Tucked against his arm was a gauntlet of thick black leather with a wide cuff of red snakeskin stamped with a gold medallion, from which dangled a gilded, red leather tassel.
Suddenly, the young warrior's hand snaked forth. A dagger flashed in his fist. Melkor, having anticipated the attack, caught his hand by the wrist and stared, utterly arrested, into eyes of glorious deep violet-blue laced with shots of gold. The boy even had beautiful brows, shaped like the wings of his eagle.
"You are mine," he murmured, his cock instantly erect.
His captive's breathing quickened, hard with fear.
"I will not hurt you," Melkor assured him. He pried away the dagger and tossed it a short distance into the rocks as the Akel strove against him, wounded but strong. He was glad to hear voices and the sounds of disturbed stones below, his men arriving at a run.
The youth's perfect lips parted over white, even teeth. "Ayet!" the young man hissed. Triumph gleamed in narrowed eyes.
A feral shriek split Melkor's eardrums. He ducked as a furious ball of red feathers and extended golden talons bowled him over. Sharp agony raked his upraised arm and shoulder, tearing through the fabric of his robe, giving birth to fountains of wet heat. Blood flowed freely down his arm to bathe his ribs.
"Throw it!" Bodhan's cry accompanied a fluttering whoosh and another scream from the eagle. The weight abruptly left Melkor's body, followed by shouts from his men. Looking beneath his arms, held crossed over his head for protection, he saw three soldiers wrestling the netted, thrashing, and screaming bird.
Beside him, the young warrior yelled loudly and lurched toward something on the ground. One of Melkor's men raised his sword.
"No!" Melkor cried. Sa'uffuuu! A wind leapt from the outcrop, catching the soldier's garments and spinning him around. Diving at the Akel warrior, Melkor grabbed him about the waist and rolled him over, even in battle savoring the arching of that hard young body under his. Another soldier, coming to his aid, pinned the Akel's legs.
A scream of raw pain broke from the captive's throat just before he collapsed, fainting on the sun-hot stone.
* * * *
"I told you not to mess with the eagle," Bodhan clucked as he pressed a warm poultice of egg whites and lime over the last of several deep gashes on Melkor's left arm. Bodhan had shed his black outerwear upon leaving the battlefield and now wore the more authoritative purple garb of a physician. "Who knows what vermin those talons have grasped? I can but pray to the remaining gods that your wounds heal without festering."
"They would answer by sending a plague to finish me off. Besides, my mother was a goddess. I heal abnormally well." Melkor tested the arm. Stabbing pain prevented him from flexing it fully. He gritted his teeth and reminded himself to wear armor into his next battle with eagles.
"Had we not arrived with the net, the creature would have torn you to shreds."
"It was defending its master." Far from reviling the beast, he thought it magnificent. He'd ordered the soldiers to convey the netted eagle safely to his tent, where a carpenter was putting the last slats on a makeshift crate in which to transport it. Melkor willed the man to hurry. He wanted to be gone before Sarduk got word of his find.
He rose from the stool on which he'd been sitting and walked over to a nearby litter, where the young Akel warrior lay unconscious while his leg was being tended by Bodhan's assistant. The older helper had just set the broken ends of the bone. Slaves had stripped the captive of his armor, now abandoned on the floor. The breastplate and gauntlet, fashioned of thick burnished leather, practically glowed in the braziers' light, giving the appearance of overlapping, perfectly formed feathers. A deep gouge across one of the panels revealed how the young man had survived an encounter with a blade. The armor's undertunic was just as marvelous, thick, heavy silk dyed to a shimmering vermilion and embroidered with golden eagles. It was beautiful work, nearly as beautiful as the wearer.
"It's hard to believe he's a warrior," Melkor mused. "He looks more like a prince's son."
"Perhaps he is one." Bodhan took a look at his helper's work and pronounced it satisfactory. He turned back to his friend and began wrapping linen strips around the poultices he'd applied to the prince's arm. "The mountain people we talked with say eagle warriors come from noble blood, from the old race that first settled these lands." Working quickly, he tucked the end of the linen strip into the binding. "There, that should hold until this evening."
"How old do you think he is?"
"I would be surprised if he has seen more than twenty years."
"Old enough to have trained an eagle for war. This is not your usual conquest."
"No, he's more interesting. Can you save the leg?" Melkor knelt beside the bed, examining the slave's work. The splint looked sturdy and the foot had good color.
"The break is a bad one, but not complicated, and the bone did not puncture the skin. It should heal. However, it was not treated for two days and...."
The physician sighed. "Your trophy is suffering from more than a broken leg. Most of the blood on him wasn't his, but he did lose some blood from wounds sustained in battle. The wounds are deep and one is clearly festering. He's febrile. And if the infection gets into the bone, he will lose not only the leg but likely his life. Despite the efforts of his bird, he's dehydrated and...."
"I've ordered the carpet. I'm taking him to my palace."
"So far away?"
"Sarduk said to kill them all." He met his friend's quizzical stare. "I want to save this man. He fought valiantly to live... and I am intrigued by his eagle."
Bodhan snorted. "You are intrigued by his carnal potential. Oh come, Melkor. We've been friends for too long. I know what you like, and this man could not be more beautiful. As for exotic... I have never seen another like him. That is why I am going to warn you." Those dark, compassionate eyes bored into his. "What do you know of this man? Two things--that he is an enemy, and that he commands the allegiance of a dangerous weapon. He probably does not speak even one word of your language. Unless you are prepared to rape him, I don't see him becoming your lover anytime soon."
His friend meant well. Melkor's last infatuation had almost succeeded in taking his life with a poorly placed blow to the ribs by a knife forged with an invisibility spell, delivered while he basked in the sweet afterglow having enjoyed a talented slave with a caramel-colored ass. Such was the price of his desire to taste, firsthand, the pleasures of the men his brother had conquered. Bodhan's warning was apt. This Akeled warrior almost certainly would hate him. Was such a trophy even worth the effort?
He would not find out unless he saved the man's life. The carpenter announced he had finished, and Melkor signaled the litter bearers. Only minutes later, he and Bodhan exited the tent, along with a pair of men bearing the captive on a litter and another two carrying the crate with the eagle. In the space before the tent, four slaves, covered neck to toes with tattoos of servitude, snapped a large carpet high into the air above the packed dirt. Melkor's eyes narrowed, his tongue sliding against his incisors as he crisply addressed the power within him. "El'gl-eth sam'rah." The carpet settled softly at knee-height above the ground, buoyed firmly by the wind he had summoned.
Bodhan climbed on first along with his assistant, and together they lifted the litter onto the carpet. Melkor and the men bearing the crated eagle joined those already seated. Soldiers and slaves standing near stepped back and bowed low, watching as the carpet bearing their prince gently rose upon the wind. Melkor bid the wind lift the carpet until it was well above the tents, then commanded a wind to carry him westward across the conquered territories to the beautiful rocks of his home.
No other mortal, not even his brothers, could travel as swiftly as he.