Here you'll find
A young duke from Tuschia gets the shock of his life when he finds himself on the wrong ship, with the wrong hair color, with definitely the wrong people! Written for the Scarlet Seduction fic contest to meet three challenges: Hairdye challenge, Pirate challenge and Threesome challenge. Maybe that's enough of a warning?
Royals and Top Gallants
It grated on his ears and made the abominable headache flare up.
...headache? Whatever for?
He opened his eyes, quickly shut them again with a heartfelt groan and pressed the heels of his palms over them. When the sparkling pain subsided enough, he tried once more and then frowned.
The world was swaying slightly, which was as it should be because it meant that he was still on board of a ship. And yet something was definitely amiss, because the loudest noise he heard was made by gulls and other birds, not the ship's hull or rigging. So they'd dropped anchor 每 but shouldn't they be well into open sea by now?
He peered around a second time and a much more worrisome observation forced its way into his consciousness: the cabin didn't look in the least familiar. In fact he could've sworn that he'd never seen it before.
That thought made his heart beat faster. What the hell had happened?
He felt his head with cautious fingertips and found the probable cause of the headache: a lump on the back of his skull, not very much swollen but rather large and definitely sore. Maybe it also explained the black hole in his memory?
That was in fact far more worrisome than any headache. The departure from the latest port, that he could remember well enough, and also how they'd navigated away from the shore and put up more sails to catch the good northeastern wind that would carry them swiftly around the southern tip of Tuschia. But after that his memory began to get sketchy, and the absolutely last thing he could remember was the crimson sunset that had marked the end of his eleventh day aboard.
Judging by the light that seeped in through the tiny cabin window, it was now daytime 每 but which day? And, to return to the most pressing question of all, where was he?
He raked fingers through his hair, wondered absently how rough it felt, then decided that some exploring was definitely in order, headache or not headache. Never one to hesitate long after a decision had been made, he swung his legs over the edge of the berth and sat up. The motion jarred his head painfully, but he swallowed the profanity that rose to his tongue; for some reason he had a feeling that it would be prudent to stay quiet.
The next few moments he spent leaning his elbows on knees and recomposing himself until he felt up to his chosen task once more. However, just as he was about to get up and start exploring for real, something caught his eye and he froze in utter shock.
Several long seconds passed before he managed to force himself out of the paralysis. At last one trembling hand rose to touch the red tress that had spilled over his shoulder and was now hanging beside his face.
With shaky fingers he pulled more of his hair where he could see it. Every single tress was red. Vibrant, orange-tinted auburn red. So garish, so completely and utterly wrong. His hair wasn't red but medium blond, it was the color of golden honey, and yet all he could see was that same terrible color! It also felt the same all around: still the familiar length, reaching between his shoulder blades in the back, but slightly drier and coarser than before. It had obviously been dyed while he'd been out of it, but why and by whom? What ridiculous joke was this?
He took a deep breath and got up from the berth, pain slicing again through his head. It felt nasty, but after some deliberation he realized that he could endure it. He wasn't going to mope here any longer, wherever 'here' was. He'd been treated in an outrageous way, he was going to demand some explanations, and then someone would pay dearly for this!
The door of the cabin was locked 每 from the outside. His initial reaction was outrage, but a few blinks later fear crept over him and he stepped back, eyes widening.
There could be only one reason why he'd be locked in: someone was keeping him prisoner. Another look around the cabin confirmed that he definitely hadn't seen this place before, so this probably wasn't the ship he'd been on. If that was the case, what ship was this?
He backed to the berth and plopped down on it, breathing hard and wishing even harder that he had any clue of what had happened.
He had no idea how long he'd been just sitting there, knees pulled up and head cradled on crossed arms, when there was a noise at the door. There'd been steps and voices outside the door before, but on the whole it had been remarkably quiet. Now someone was clearly fiddling with the lock, then the hinges squeaked, and he pressed his head more firmly into his arms.
"Ah, you're awake at last, Milord."
The voice spoke with a slight accent that he couldn't immediately place. Reluctantly curious, he raised his head enough to squint at the speaker.
The man was tall. Ship doors were not high, but he filled the entire opening as he stood there, leaning against the door frame, hunching as he peered in. Broad shoulders, long legs. The hair...
Some more squinting confirmed it: it was dark red. The slanted rays of late afternoon sun accentuated the color, but that rich, deep, lustrous mahogany red of his hair, eyebrows and mustache wasn't a mere trick of the light.
He was also extremely handsome in a roguish, disturbingly overwhelming way, and somehow that made the situation infinitely worse. If only he were scary, or hideous, or just plain ugly, but no. He was handsome and oozed power and nonchalance as he stood there, looking like a man about to go for an afternoon stroll on his estate. Knowing everything, in control of the whole world.
"How are you feeling, Milord?" the man asked. "Not too bad, I hope?"
"Why do you call me that?" he blurted out disdainfully.
The man shook his head, stepped into the cabin and looked down at his captive, tanned hands on hips.
"That won't work, Milord," he said with a smirk. "I know who you are, Dam-Arrakh Anduccio, and even if I hadn't had a clue before, the way the crew of your ship behaved when we apprehended them would've been a dead certain giveaway. Besides, we knew you'd be aboard. Why else would we have bothered with the ship? The cargo was nothing worth our while anyway."
"What do you want?" Anduccio tried to pull away without looking like it, but the bulkhead behind his back stopped him. "Who are you? What've you done to the ship and the crew?"
The man raised an eyebrow. "What, can't you remember that we've already been introduced? That knock on your head must've been harder than the guys intended... Well then, let's start again from the beginning!"
He bowed with flourish, eyes glittering. "Please allow me to introduce myself, Milord. I am Captain Toram era Perok, and I welcome you most heartily aboard Shenaret, my pride and joy, my kingdom and home. I regret to inform you that you're currently our prisoner, but hasten to assure you that myself and my whole crew will do our very best to make sure that your stay here will be a pleasant one."
His guest glowered at him for a moment, unable to think of any reply to such eloquence, and also afraid that his voice might not be altogether stable. He definitely wasn't going to let this 每 this bastard see how scared he was. He would show the man that dukes weren't that easily intimidated!
"Captain, huh?" he huffed at length. "What kind of a captain goes about taking people captive?"
"Why, a pirate captain of course." The red-haired man flashed him a wolfish smile. "As I'm sure you could already guess, Milord."
The brazen tone made Anduccio gasp. "You admit it? Just like that?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Captain Toram chuckled, folding arms on his chest. "Nobody who's even half as successful in his chosen profession as I am would even dream of being modest about it."
Anduccio glowered some more, simply because he didn't know what else to do. "All right, so you're a pirate. How did you know that I was on that ship? What do you want of me? And why the hell have you dyed my hair this... this horrid color?"
"I'm glad you're feeling like yourself again, Milord."
The grin made Anduccio's blood boil.
"How do you propose to know that?" he asked in a clipped tone.
The smile got still a little smugger. "Because I guess now you're starting to behave normally."
"You're guessing an awful lot," Anduccio began, then snapped his mouth shut when the tall man took a step closer and fixed him with a coolly amused glare.
"Milord, I don't need to do a lot of guesswork here. Firstly, I have a pretty good idea what Tuschian princelings in general might be like. Secondly, I know that you were not on that ship quite by chance, but because your honored father had decided that fresh sea air and temporary confinement to more limited surroundings would be in order. Now, I'm fully aware that sailing is not part of the regular education of young Tuschian noblemen. Therefore, your father's unconventional decision tells me that you might be even more of a handful than the average princeling. Of course it might also be that your father is a gentleman of particularly strict standards, but judging by his general reputation, I'm more inclined to believe the first option."
Anduccio gulped when the Captain placed one booted foot on the edge of the berth and leaned closer in mock confidentiality, crossed arms leaning on the raised knee.
"Not that I really care for the reason, anyway. I knew you were there, and it was you I was after. Your father may be somewhat exasperated with you right now, but I'm willing to bet that he still wants to have his precious boy back 每 wants it badly enough to eventually buy your freedom."
The Captain cocked his head and looked at Anduccio assessingly. "I know you're not the eldest son, but no matter. Your father only has the two of you, and he won't want to lose either one. There, that should satisfy at least some of your curiosity, Milord."
"It does," Anduccio managed hoarsely. "What're you going to do with me?"
"Give you the ride of your life," Captain Toram said with unmistakable glee. "All the while taking very good care of you, of course. At the moment you're my most highly prized possession, right after this ship, and I am very particular about my possessions. You're going to be treated according to your rank, and if you behave, your stay with us should be rather comfortable. I won't keep you locked up more than is absolutely necessary. I'm sure you follow me."
"Perfectly. Except that I'm not a 'possession', not yours nor anyone else's." Bright blue eyes looked defiantly up. "And you still haven't explained why you've dyed my hair."
"Simple, Milord. Your father has been warned that if he sends ships after us, and if by some miracle one of them actually managed to catch us, there'll definitely be a fight where his darling rascal boy just might be injured or even lose his life. Possibly by the hand of one of his own men, moreover, simply because they won't be able to recognize you."
The corners of the man's eyes creased with laughter. "It was such a pity about that lovely hair of yours, but unfortunately no one among my crew has even remotely the same coloring as you. You'd have been all too easy to spot, and we couldn't have that. Besides, it'll wash out eventually."
"Delighted to hear that," Anduccio said stiffly, proud of the irony he managed to squeeze into his tone.
"Indeed, because it truly was a beautiful color... Now, Milord, perhaps you'd do me the honor of accompanying me, so that I can show you your cabin? I apologize for putting you in this one for the time being, but we needed to make some arrangements first and besides, you were out of it anyway."
Anduccio pushed himself up, reluctant but unable to deny his growing curiosity. The Captain stepped aside to let him pass through the door first, and he nearly shuddered when he realized that his head only reached to the man's chin.
"You speak the language really well, but you're not Tuschian," he said, feigning nonchalance. "Where are you from?"
The Captain acknowledged the compliment with a little nod, so incongruously gentlemanly for a self-proclaimed pirate that grudging fascination flared up inside Anduccio. "My family is originally from Meirelaan, but I've never set foot there. Sorry, cannot be more precise."
"But have you lived in Tuschia?" Anduccio pressed on. "Somewhere around Gherto, perhaps? You've got a western accent."
"No," Captain Toram said. "I haven't. I've just met a lot of people from all around the place, and I must admit that learning languages has always come easy to me. Now, Milord, if you please?"
The youth clenched his teeth together and stepped out of the door that the Captain was holding open for him. A slight wind hit his face as he straightened his back and looked around. And blinked a few times.
From what he could see, the ship was small but sleek, and rigged to put up an impressive amount of canvas. That figured; a light ship with large sails was fast, and speed that was definitely something pirate ships in general were famous for. It also seemed to be heavily armed for its size, which figured as well.
What Anduccio hadn't expected, though, was the extreme tidiness. His gaze swept over the surroundings and found everything primly in its place. The deck had been scrubbed probably the same day, everything was freshly painted and varnished, sails neatly tied to the booms. Nothing was sagging, nothing hanging loose, nothing to show the slightest sign of neglect.
The ship had indeed dropped anchor, but Anduccio didn't even try to guess where they were; it occurred to him that he'd forgotten to ask the Captain how long he'd been unconscious. A quick glance revealed nothing in the horizon, but the screeching he'd heard was suddenly much more understandable when he turned to his left. Not far away, on the port side, loomed a rocky islet surrounded by a swarm of sea birds, white dots covering the cliffs that rose to a dizzying height.
Several members of the crew were on the deck and looked at him with cool curiosity. Anduccio swallowed his nervousness and returned the stare with as much defiance as he could muster, taking in the wildly varying looks and clothing styles. This certainly was a diverse bunch 每 everyone darkly tanned, as was only to be expected, but he was rather certain that no two of them were originally of the same nationality. No, wait... he'd spotted another head of red hair.
Indeed he had, and then a third one, and both made him gasp, for one of them belonged to a boy of perhaps ten or twelve and the other one to a 每 woman? Yes, it was definitely a woman, roughly the same age as Anduccio's mother. She was rather tall and her features strong, dressed in the same fashion as the men around her, but the shape of her athletic body was nevertheless feminine. She raised a dark eyebrow and cast an expectant look at the Captain towering above Anduccio.
"So, Sleeping Beauty has arisen?" Her voice was darkly pleasant, her Tuschian clearly accented.
"Indeed," the Captain said. "Now, Milord, I'd like to introduce to you some notable members of my crew, and as I'm a gentleman I'll begin with the ladies. These are my cousin Tariella and her son Tordiak. Incidentally, she's also the Quartermaster here, so you'd better stay on good terms with her."
Anduccio didn't know what else to do, so he bowed slightly and felt like a complete idiot for behaving with such courtesy towards a female pirate. The gesture was graciously returned by the two redheads, and the boy granted him a wide smile which Anduccio very nearly reciprocated before he managed to stop himself.
"The man over there," Captain Toram pointed towards an olive-skinned man with long black-brown ponytail, "is Remiell, the Boatswain and Tordiak's father."
Anduccio was sure he wouldn't remember even half of the names, so strange many of them were to his ear and tongue, but he nodded obediently to each crew member as the Captain walked him around. He obviously wanted to impress his princely prisoner with his ship, and to Anduccio's dismay also succeeded in it. No matter how the young man tried, he couldn't help the strengthening feeling that this was absolutely the best kept vessel he'd ever even imagined, and also the most beautiful. It was plain to see that every detail of Shenaret was lovingly tended and taken care of.
"Ah, and last but definitely not least 每" Captain Toram's voice dropped nearly into a purr. Anduccio, who had been marveling at some intricately carved and painted details in the woodwork, turned and forgot to breathe. "This here is Schameel, my First Mate, Master and right-hand man."
"Some compliment, that, considering that you're left-handed," said the apparition dryly, and the Captain chuckled.
Anduccio merely stared while the man standing next to the Captain returned the gaze calmly, with the air of someone used to being stared at. He was half a head shorter and a little lighter in build than his captain, but tightly muscled 每 as revealed by the short vest, the only piece of clothing he wore above loose pants and knee-high boots. His most striking feature was the hair: a gleaming black mass that cascaded over his shoulders and down his back in cords, each about as thick as a man's finger. His face was regular and oddly fascinating, and the exotic effect was in no way lessened by the heavy black outlines drawn around his dark eyes, or the strange pattern in the middle of his forehead.
With a little jolt Anduccio shook himself out of his trance and felt his cheeks go red, and yet still found it difficult to tear his gaze away. He couldn't even begin to guess which part of the world the man was from, nor could he understand why his throat went dry as the man looked at him calmly, with a tiny smirk on his lips.
"I am surprised that the red suits him that well," the man said with an odd, lilting accent. Anduccio felt his face go even hotter under the scrutiny.
The Captain nodded. "No, it's not half bad, though I liked the original more."
"So did I, of course." The dark man bowed to Anduccio. "Please forgive me, Milord, my Tuschian is not very good."
"Oh, it's 每 all right," Anduccio stammered. "Really, I'm surprised that you speak it at all."
"We deal with ships from many countries," Captain Toram said, eyes glinting, and the youth shuddered. The Captain shot him a sharp glance. "Now, now, my young friend, don't look so frightened. Didn't I tell you that we'll take good care of you? And we will, too. You'll be the flower in my hand, the apple of my eye..."
The dark man rolled his eyes and said something that made the Captain laugh aloud. He replied in the same strange language, and the other man shook his head with a sigh.
"Now I'll take you to lodgings that should be a bit better up to your usual standards, Milord!" The Captain turned again to Anduccio. "Soon it'll be dinnertime, too. This way, please."
Once Anduccio's eyes had got used to the sparse light inside, they nearly popped out of their sockets. The large room was nothing short of luxurious: dark, polished wood gleaming dully next to fabrics decorated with fantastic patterns, here and there the glint of something that looked suspiciously like gold or silver. The whole atmosphere was almost indecently opulent and sucked him in like a drug. He looked around, wanting to touch and feel and explore and yet ashamed to give in to the whim 每 he was, after all, a prince's son, used to pomp and glitter, he wasn't going to let a mere pirate notice that he could be impressed by anything!
Too bad, though, that he felt like he'd stepped into some enticing dream. Heavy, colorful rugs covered the floor and chairs, oddly shaped lamps loomed on the partitions, unlit. Anduccio tried to look surreptitiously around.
"They're from Al-Marud."
"The lamps here in the day cabin. They're from Al-Marud, like quite a few other things here." The Captain pushed another door open. "Here, Milord, I hope this satisfies you."
Anduccio, firmly resolved not to be caught gaping a second time, stepped past the man and breathed in the warm, woody scent that hung in the air. He nodded graciously.
"This will do, thank you."
"Excellent." Captain Toram drawled. "I'll leave you now for a moment, in case you want to rest. We'll be having dinner soon."
When the door closed behind him, the young duke crawled to lie face down on the berth and buried his head in his arms. The mattress was soft and comfortable and smelled of something sweet and a little spicy, but Anduccio refused to be overwhelmed by yet another oddity. He had definitely had enough for one crazy day.
A few hours later the young duke was back in the same sleeping cabin where he stripped down to his underwear, settled on the impossibly comfortable berth and tried to relax. By now he was feeling physically all right but mentally exhausted, and perhaps that was why sleep was so slow in coming: too many thoughts were occupying his mind, starting from the recent surreal experience so innocently dubbed dinner.
Until now, the words 'dinner' and 'pirate ship' had definitely seemed to belong to wholly separate worlds, but that misconception had now been corrected. For one thing, there was the setting. Anduccio hadn't seen many ships in his life, but according to his limited experience the day cabin right outside his door was something that would've made any Tuschian captain turn lurid green with envy. Secondly, the meal had matched the luxurious surroundings perfectly: tasty, spicy and exotic, something that should have been downright impossible aboard a ship. Obviously Shenaret was a ship of miracles.
And then there'd been the company with whom he'd been brushing elbows at the table. In addition to Captain Toram and the eye-catching Master Schameel, they had been accompanied by four other persons: the Captain's cousin Tariella, her son Tordiak, Remiell the Boatswain, and the ship's surgeon Omayrr, a dark man who bore some resemblance to the spectacular Schameel but didn't carry that peculiar sign on his forehead.
Anduccio hadn't quite known where to put his eyes to avoid staring at someone all the time, especially as the leisurely conversation over the meal had been just about impossible to follow. It had been conducted using a wild mixture of at least half a dozen different languages, and while everybody else had seemed to understand each other perfectly well, merely listening to it had made Anduccio's brain sizzle. The relaxed atmosphere he could sense well enough, though.
These were pirates? Captain Toram had readily confirmed this to be so, then gone on to explain that they rather preferred ventures far more challenging, and also potentially more lucrative, than straightforward pillaging of ships 每 although they had enough plunder under their belt to prove their skills even in that pursuit. Over the course of the dinner Anduccio had also heard a few tantalizing hints at some events that the Captain, with a gleeful smirk, had called 'shenanigans'; each one of them seemed to involve jewels famed enough to have names given to them, and many foreign potentates with fancy titles.
When Anduccio had pointed out that quite a few of those adventures seemed to have been conducted on dry ground, the Captain had just shrugged.
"If our bounty is taken inland, of course we follow it," he'd said. "But the sea is our home."
Oh yes, Anduccio was certain that these rogues would gladly kidnap a prince's son for ransom. However, Captain Toram had been far more tightlipped about how they'd known about Anduccio's presence aboard that ill-fated Tuschian merchant ship 每 aggravatingly so, no matter how Anduccio had tried to swindle the information out of him. Finally he'd given up, but still it bothered him.
The plan hadn't been declared strictly confidential, but it hadn't been exactly publicized, either: that the innocuous merchant ship sailing from M谷lico on the east coast to the western port of Gherto would also be carrying Duke Anduccio, Prince Orrand芍io's younger son. He hadn't been expected to do any physical work when on board, but his father had let him understand that it would benefit him to keep his eyes open and perhaps try to understand something about the sailing trade.
Anduccio had been perplexed. Princes and dukes seldom made sailors, so what could the Prince have in mind? Surely he hadn't been thinking of making his somewhat unruly younger son an officer in the tiny fleet that was the Tuschian navy? Not that the original reason mattered much right now. And the question still remained. How had the pirates learned of Anduccio's trip? That required strong contacts with Tuschia, and this was where the young duke's brow wrinkled in thought.
The ship he'd been on was owned by the Gh赤a, an immensely rich and influential merchant family based in Gherto. The distance between Gherto and Melico, the capital, wasn't all that long as the crow flies, but crows could easily fly over the more mountainous regions that dominated the central parts of Tuschia. That was why sailing was the preferred method of transport, and that was how the Gh赤a had recently built their fortunes. About halfway between the two cities lay the estate of Anduccio's uncle, Duke Orri谷ldo. His wife, Duchess Fianna, was the only sister of Gh赤a Ghiarra, the current head of the family. If that didn't count as a connection, Anduccio didn't know what did.
Nothing in the present-day business of the Gh赤a family suggested anything amiss, but a slightly sinister aura seemed to hang over the name, and many people seemed ready to nod knowingly whenever there was even a hint of something suspicious going on around them. Anduccio had met Gh赤a Ghiarra a couple of times and been no end impressed by the man 每 but he didn't have to stretch his imagination very far to picture the man dealing with pirates. Especially with someone even half as suave and gentlemanly as Captain Toram.
However, that was really as far as his imagination stretched. Even if Gh赤a Ghiarra and Captain Toram really knew each other, Anduccio couldn't grasp why the merchant would tip off his less-than-reputable friends of the young duke's trip. He had to know that something like this might happen, and that would definitely mean trouble! Prince Dam-Arrakh Orrand芍io and his son didn't always see eye to eye, but Anduccio knew that his father cared for him and would leave no stone unturned to get him safely back. If there was any connection between the owner of the ship from which the prince's son disappeared and the actual abduction, Prince Orrand芍io would ferret it out and then there'd be hell to pay!
No, it made no sense to assume that the Gh赤a himself would've done anything so foolish. Hadn't he shown vivid interest in strengthening the commercial ties between his business empire in Gherto and the demanding, moneyed people in M谷lico? Why ruin it all by something this ludicrous?
So the most probable culprit was someone in the employ of the Gh赤a, someone well acquainted with his master's business but devious enough to try and make some profit of his own. Someone who'd sniffed the opportunity to get well paid for a tidbit of information. Someone whose neck Anduccio would personally wring once he got back to Tuschia, provided that his father didn't get the man first.
Anduccio closed his eyes in the darkness of the cabin and buried his head deeper into the pillow. Some hairs clung to his lips and he swept them out of his mouth, then remembered again their ghastly color and growled under his breath.
As much as it irked the young duke, over the next few days he couldn't think of anything to complain about. Captain Toram seemed to be a man of his word: Anduccio was treated like a visitor, not a captive, his life made as comfortable as possible at sea. He could move freely about, hang out on the deck or stay indoors as he pleased, and he made full use of this privilege. Nobody needed to remind him not to make any trouble. He wasn't weary of his life, and besides, where would he run to?
Shenaret had sailed away from the rocky islet the very next day, at the crack of dawn, and since then there'd mostly been only the sky and the sea to look at. Every now and then a group of dolphins appeared to swim alongside the sleek vessel that flew forward, prow breaking through waves as easily as the noses of the smiling, plump creatures playing around her.
Despite his limited experience, Anduccio was able to appreciate the seaworthiness of the ship. Shenaret had clearly been built primarily for speed, and it showed. She also provided a lot of entertainment for anyone with an eye for beauty, and thus kept Anduccio occupied for hours as he roamed about and tried to pick out detail after detail in the decorations that seemed to be everywhere. He couldn't help wondering how practical it was for pirates to have such an eye-catching ship. How could they hope to visit any port when Shenaret could be identified from miles away?
Such concerns didn't seem to bother the crew, who went about their daily duties like a clockwork with obvious zeal, keeping the ship not only sailing but in excellent repair. Such order, such discipline...
"It's a handsome day today, Milord."
Anduccio nearly jumped, then turned around and braced himself for what he'd see, but still it managed to take his breath away. He wished he knew why seeing Master Schameel always had that effect on him, and did his best to appear nonchalant as he bowed his head gently in greeting.
The dark man looked very relaxed and confident as he stood there, hands resting on the helm rather than holding it. At the moment there was very little need to actually steer the ship; the sails were full of steady, strong wind and she was racing on, all sheets taut, easily riding the waves towards some invisible destination.
Anduccio pulled his ponytail tighter, cursing the strands that kept slipping loose and flying into his field of vision, as if intent not to let him forget for a moment their horrid color. Childish as it was, he couldn't help being constantly irritated by it, perhaps because he had so precious little else to worry about. If he'd been kept chained to a bulkhead in some dank corner, he'd certainly have forgotten all about his hair by now. Though of course he much preferred his current situation, red hair notwithstanding.
The duke felt the gaze of those black-brown eyes and did his best not to blush, although he couldn't really figure out what reason he had to blush in the first place 每 apart from having stared, of course. But then, there were so many reasons to stare, because the man looked so strange and exotic and fascinating. Take that hair, for example, those thick black cords he'd pulled over his left shoulder so that they hung on his chest, heavy and gleaming as if wet...
"Are you bored, Milord?"
"Uh, no, not really." Anduccio shook himself. "It's just that, well, I feel so odd to be walking around like this when I'm after all your prisoner."
"You shouldn't think like that."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't think of yourself as a prisoner," Master Schameel replied. "Why not take this as an adventure instead?"
"I've come to the conclusion that an adventure only becomes an adventure after it's safely over," he said, then nearly bit his tongue. Hadn't he been taught all his life to never play to his adversary's hand, whatever the situation?
Master Schameel eyed him with a tiny smirk and shook his head.
"No reason to worry, Milord. Shanukh promised that we won't harm you, and we won't, because you're far more valuable to us the way you are now. Though of course I shouldn't be telling you this."
"Because you might misuse the knowledge." Master Schameel winked, and now it was Anduccio's turn to shake his head.
"I'm not an idiot. I do realize that if I'm too difficult, you'll lock me up, and I value this freedom far too much."
"That's very clever of you, Milord. And who knows what things you'll get to see and learn with us if you use your freedom well? Shanukh hasn't decided yet how long you'll stay with us."
Anduccio's eyes went round. "But there was going to be a rendezvous! Hasn't he sent a message to my father to ask for a meeting?"
"Oh yes, Milord, but that's only the first contact." The man smiled. "Shanukh won't make up his mind until after that."
The duke digested this for a while, realized that his only option was to wait and see, and decided to switch the topic. After a moment's hesitation he couldn't suppress his curiosity any more. "All right... but Master Schameel, may I ask you something? Where are you from? And by the way, what does Shanukh mean?"
"I'm sure you guessed that I'm talking about the Captain. It means 'chief', or 'boss' 每 Shanukh." He pronounced it softly, stressing the second syllable. "And actually we're from the same place, but my parents are from Al-Marud."
"Oh." Anduccio nodded. "So, when you talk to the Captain, is that language 每 uhh 每 Al-Marud?"
"It's called Al-Marish," Master Schameel corrected. "And actually, no it's not. Mostly we speak Doreeq between ourselves, that's the language of my father."
"But didn't you say your parents are from Al-Marud?" Anduccio asked, puzzled. The man laughed.
"Yes, they're from Al-Marud, but my father is a Doreeq. His people live on the edge of the desert and breed the best horses that live on this Earth. They have their own ways and customs and language, different from the Al-Marish."
"I see," the duke said dubiously. "I think. So, is it a Doreeq thing to have such hair, and that strange mark on your forehead, and to paint your eyes black?"
"Yes to all," Master Schameel said, clearly amused by the duke's inquisitiveness. "Most Doreeq have curly hair like this, we wear it long, and it's easier to handle when it's twined into these locks. And this 每" he touched the pattern between his eyebrows, "this tattoo shows my name."
"Tattoo?" Anduccio winced.
"Yes, it's a Doreeq custom to have your name tattooed on your face." The man grinned. "So my father did it to me."
"But why do Doreeq men paint their eyes?" Anduccio persisted.
"It's because of the hot desert sun. I told you, they breed and herd horses so they spend all day outside, and this protects the eyes. Equally so at sea."
"Oh," said Anduccio, even more fascinated that before. Master Schameel had such a ready answer to everything that he was sure the man was telling the truth. "But why did your parents then leave the place? Especially if your father used to live on the edge of the desert. how come he's not there anymore?"
"Didn't have much choice," Master Schameel shrugged. "They were sold as slaves, and then some years later they landed in the hands of pirates."
"Slaves..." Anduccio's nose wrinkled. "Do people keep slaves in Al-Marud?"
"Not there. In some other places, yes. And there's much demand for beautiful boys and girls from Al-Marud."
"So that's why you look like that..."
Tiny lines creased at the corners of those black-outlined eyes as Master Schameel's lips pulled into a smile, and Anduccio flushed deep red. Surely he hadn't actually said it out loud? He opened his mouth for a hasty explanation, but the chuckle somewhere behind him made him close his eyes for a moment, absurdly hoping he could sink right through the deck.
Which, of course, didn't happen. When he looked again, the Captain had materialized beside the Master, resting a casual arm on the man's shoulder. He smirked, said something Anduccio didn't understand at all, was lazily elbowed in the ribs in return 每 and that was when the duke's temper boiled over.
He swept yet another stray lock of red-dyed hair from his mouth, mortified enough to get belligerent, and raised his chin defiantly.
"Since you profess to be such a gentleman, Captain, I'm surprised that you don't realize how rude it is to speak in my presence using a language I don't understand," he said in a clipped tone. "If you wish to insult me, at least do it so that I know 每 if you please."
Captain Toram's eyebrow arched up, then twitched as he looked Anduccio slowly up and down. Anduccio clenched his jaws not to growl at the slow smile.
"I apologize exceedingly, Milord, but I have to ask if you're really serious about wanting to know what I said?"
"Yes," the young duke said firmly.
"Very well then, Milord, I will of course do as you wish, seeing as you're our honored guest." The Captain appeared to have some trouble keeping a straight face. "I was just asking Schameel if I really heard right, that you were propositioning him."
"Wha-what did you say?" The duke was dumbfounded. "I 每 you 每 absolutely not!"
"Paying that kind of compliments to someone very much sounds like it, though," Captain Toram pointed out with an indulgent little grin. "Oh, by the way, I totally agree with you. Schameel is a marvelous beauty."
"You don't call a man beautiful," he managed, but the Captain's eyes just glinted with amusement.
"I just did," he said, "and so did you, more or less. Why not?"
"Because..." The duke grappled with words. "Because women are beautiful. Men are not. Men can be handsome, or good-looking, or 每"
"Or beautiful." Captain Toram's voice dropped into a murmur and Anduccio's breath hitched when long fingers ghosted to Master Schameel's neck and up to the jawline, brushed across the lips and cheekbone and finally sank into the gleaming black hair. "Like our Schameel here."
Master Schameel jerked his head a bit and gave the Captain a sideways look that made Anduccio's knees wobbly all of a sudden. He swallowed hard and turned away with determination. He needed to get away from those two bizarre men, quickly.
Behind him, Master Schameel said something to the Captain, his tone amused but reproachful. Captain Toram merely laughed.
Anduccio marched to the forecastle and stood there for a long time, arms twined around the shrouds, brow deeply lined and chewing his lip. For once he was completely oblivious to the pirates busily working around him.
The wind was stronger. Shenaret had reefed some sails but was still pushing on at a good speed through the darkening night. Duke Dam-Arrakh Anduccio lay on his berth wide awake, listening to the rhythmical splash of waves against the hull, tense as a lute-string.
He wished he knew what had woken him up. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, nor did he feel in the least nauseous despite the rougher sea. To his great pride he'd been mostly spared from seasickness, even during that brief storm he'd experienced on the fifth day since the merchant ship had departed from M谷lico, so it couldn't be the rolling, either. The ship also sounded perfectly normal, with only the night watch up and about.
Was it the heat? Anduccio had already stripped off the long shirt he wore to bed, but his chest was still coated with a thin film of sweat. Irritably he kicked away the blanket and sheets tangled around his legs, then huffed and stood up. Maybe a moment on the deck would make him feel better.
He fumbled for his breeches and pulled them on, grumbling under his breath. Barefoot he padded to the door, pushed it open, and began to walk across the darkness of the day cabin, arms outstretched to detect any obstacles before he'd hit a toe against them.
Anduccio didn't quite get to the door, however, when he heard something and froze, ears pricked. Finally he had to exhale once more, and that was when he heard it again 每 low, breathless laughter that made a hot wave shoot through him.
For a few moments the young duke just stood in the darkness, trying to get his body back under control, but there was no stopping the hand that crept to the buttoned-up front of his trousers. Rippling heat danced up and down his spine, then gathered in his lower belly and made him hard, so hard he couldn't help touching himself.
He sank teeth into his lower lip not to let out a sound as his hand cupped the confined hard-on, but... wait, no. That ecstatic moan hadn't come from him!
Anduccio's knees turned into cotton. He knew that he should go back to his cabin, this very instant, but once again his sensible self had very little influence over his actions. So he just crept closer, dead certain of whose voices he had heard and yet refusing to believe before he'd see it for himself.
He flattened his palms quietly on the door and pressed against it, eyes closing, all attention focused on listening. He was rewarded by a husky murmur and then a gasp to which his own sex responded so eagerly that he had to swallow a curse. How the damn cloth chafed...
The cabin belonged to Captain Toram, but Anduccio knew the voice: it had been Master Schameel. The duke had no firsthand experience of the activity those two had to be involved in, but his body could guess well enough what was going on, and it let him know that it wouldn't at all mind having a try as well. He pressed his forehead against polished wood, desperately trying to hear more, one hand kneading the hardness that was quickly driving him crazy 每
每 and when the ship lurched a bit more, his other hand automatically grasped the first protruding object that could possibly offer support. Unfortunately that protuberance happened to be a doorknob and the door swung open, with a very surprised Anduccio hanging on to it for dear life. He quickly found his footing once more, then yelped when fingers closed around his upper arm. How could anyone move so damn fast?
"Milord?" The initial surprise in the Captain's voice quickly morphed into the usual smug amusement. "Is something wrong?"
"N-no," Anduccio managed over the mad hammering of his heart, only too aware of the heat radiating from the tall man's body 每 stark naked, as far as he could tell. "I... uh, was going out and 每"
"Got mixed up with the doors?" Captain Toram chuckled. "Hmm, you know what, Milord? I don't think you're telling me the truth now. Do you know what I think?"
"I think that you heard something." Anduccio couldn't bite back a groan when that big hand closed over the bulging front of his trousers. "Mmm... yes, that sounds far more likely. And that maybe you'd like to join in?"
"Yes, I think he wants to join in," Master Schameel echoed. Anduccio blinked as he saw the outline of the man leaning against the door frame, right behind the Captain. From what he could see in the scant moonlight trickling in from the cabin, the dark man wasn't wearing anything either. Not a single thread. "Come, Shanukh, and take the young ruqhat along. Let's show him some fun."
"Sounds like a good idea," the Captain said with a nod. Anduccio couldn't hold back the jerk of his hips or the sigh of protest as the caressing hand slipped away, but the man just clicked his tongue. "Milord, Milord, some patience! I promise that you'll get as much as you want, but let's go to bed. It's much nicer there, believe me."
He took the duke by the wrist and pulled him into the cabin while Master Schameel turned and closed the door behind them.
"We'll hardly be disturbed tonight," the Master said as he crawled to sit cross-legged on the wide berth. "The weather is not likely to change much before noon."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Captain Toram mused, pushing Anduccio to sit down as well. The young duke obeyed the hands that guided him to lean back on his elbows, then panted when they ghosted down his naked belly and began to unbutton the trousers. "Oh, but this young man is so very needy right now..."
"Must take care of that first."
The whisper next to Anduccio's ear made all hairs stand up on his nape, and then his arms gave in underneath him because the Captain had popped the last button open and was easing his trousers down. He felt Master Schameel move next to him, then a warm breath on his face, and some heavy locks tumbled onto his chest and neck.
"Have you ever kissed a man?" Master Schameel was on all fours beside Anduccio, his eyes looking enormous in the dark cabin.
"No," the duke breathed.
"If I ask you in a moment, you can answer differently." Master Schameel was smiling, then glanced over his shoulder. "Shanukh, do you want to go first?"
"Go right ahead, yanouri."
Anduccio had kissed a few girls, he'd even had a regrettably brief encouter with an experienced lady who'd known very well what she was after, but this was totally different from anything before. The lips were surprisingly soft, the teeth sharp, the tongue slick and demanding. Master Schameel coaxed him along, touched his face, teased and probed, and the youth let himself get lost into the experience. Want and need were throbbing in his body and especially in his groin, and yet he didn't want to lose a single moment of this novelty. He wanted so badly to touch, but when his hands rose from the bed, the Captain's grip forced them back.
"More," he gasped, out of breath, when Schameel pulled slightly away. "Please, more."
"Oh, you will have more." That was Captain Toram's voice again, and Anduccio felt the fingers loosen around his wrists. "A lot more, Milord... What do you want to do, yanouri?"
Anduccio didn't understand the reply but was too dazed by lust to care. He eagerly obeyed when the Captain settled to sit back against the bulkhead and urged him to sit up as well, pulling him closer. He leaned back into the Captain's arms and observed in passing that his initial impression had been right: the Captain was naked, as testified by the bare warmth of the long legs between which he was snugly pressed.
The tall Captain pulled the young duke into his arms, his jutting sex pressed against Anduccio's back, and for a moment Anduccio was sure that he'd spend himself right there and then, without even touching his member.
"Easy now." The low murmur made Anduccio see stars in the darkness. "There, hush now, just enjoy..."
Large hands guided the youth to open his legs and lock them over the muscular thighs between which he was sitting. Heat rushed to Anduccio's face when he realized the way he was spread there, wantonly in the man's arms, but need was burning him and he couldn't make himself care too much. Nor did he have much time to be embarrassed, because the very next moment another pair of hands touched the insides of his thighs. They were close, so damnably close to where he really needed to be touched, that he arched up with a gasp.
"Don't torture him, yanouri!" The Captain was holding him in an iron grip, voice bubbling with reproach and laughter. "He needs it so bad, poor boy."
"As you say..."
Anduccio's eyes flew wide open when he realized that Master Schameel was crawling between his legs, shaking that long hair out of the way. The Captain's tongue tickled the shell of his ear.
"I'm just hoping that you won't be completely spoiled, Milord," the man purred, and the duke shivered.
"What do you mean?"
"Schameel is really too good at that... I'm afraid you'll never be satisfied with anything but a Doreeq after this."
Anduccio opened his mouth to ask what exactly Master Schameel was so good at, but what came out was something between a wail and a sigh when the man's tongue swirled for the first time around the tip of his sex. All he could do after that was to not moan too loud as he clawed for purchase under the glorious assault and finally twined his fingers together behind the Captain's neck.
It was just too much 每 the hard, hot body behind him, the arms and hands holding him, the lips kissing the base of his neck. And the other hands that caressed his balls and hole, the mouth that sucked so that he felt it all the way to his toes...
Anduccio had no idea whether it took seconds or minutes until his entire consciousness coiled into his balls and then exploded.
Something warm was slowly gliding down his belly, first making itself known to him when it tickled a nipple. After that first fuzzy realization his alertness increased dramatically when the warm something approached his bellybutton, and he clapped a hand over it.
It was a hand, and the quiet laughter that followed, told him that the hand, like the voice, belonged to Captain Toram.
"Good morning," the Captain drawled.
"Is it morning already?" Anduccio cracked one sleepy eye open and peeked blearily at the faint red light looming outside the small window.
"Depends on definition," was the reply. "The night watch have just crawled to their hammocks. But you're in no hurry to wake up properly."
Anduccio cuddled more comfortably against the warm plane, which upon closer inspection showed to be the Captain's chest. He yawned, and the man chuckled again.
"Feeling good, Milord?"
"Fantastic," Anduccio mumbled truthfully. "Never felt even close to this good."
Even though his memories of the night were sporadic, yet he felt like curling up and purring like a cat when images began to flash through his head.
Two big, male bodies twining together, muscles tensing, outlined by the bleak silver of moonlight seeping in. Himself cradled between them. The wet friction of lips on heated flesh. The grunts and sighs. Murmured words of encouragement, the language incomprehensible but their meaning amply clear 每
The duke smiled to himself as he felt how desire pushed its way through the lassitude that filled him. He shook his head.
"I can't possibly want it again," Anduccio protested to his unruly body. The Captain laughed under his breath, a most delicious rumble.
"And why not? You're a healthy young man, and you've just got a proper taste of some new pleasures." Captain Toram peered down at Anduccio who still, to his own surprise, had enough modesty left to feel heat rushing to his face.
"Well, yes, but..."
His voice trailed away when he felt Master Schameel stir sleepily behind him, and he became aware of the hard length against which his behind was so snugly settled. He remembered what it had felt like, just a few hours earlier, to squeeze it between his thighs, and how the dark man's wickedly skilled fingers had found inside him something that had made him cry out at every touch...
Anduccio groaned and buried his face into Captain Toram's shoulder.
"Nothing wrong with it, pretty boy." The Captain's knee nudged Anduccio's legs apart, and the young man sighed as he felt a muscular thigh between his own. "Nothing whatsoever 每 ahh, good morning, yanouri!"
Anduccio wiggled out of his slot between the men and settled to lie on top of the Captain, watching with vivid fascination as the men exchanged a long kiss. At last Master Schameel's thick lashes fluttered open and he gave the young duke a mischievous wink.
"We are not going to return this young man very soon, are we, Shanukh?"
Anduccio's eyes flew wide open when the Captain shook his head and laughed. "But 每 but didn't you say 每"
"Hush, Milord!" Captain Toram gently rocked his hips and Anduccio, riding on him, barely managed to close his eyes before they crossed at the resulting sensation. "There's something I very much want to have from your father, and to get it I must make sure that not a single hair is broken from your head."
He rolled the duke down between himself and Master Schameel and kissed him.
"No, we have no intention to turn you into a pirate. We'll take you back home, eventually... but while you're with us, why not enjoy it? Especially as we've just found out that we might have some common interests."
"We'd be happy to teach you some things," Master Schameel added softly.
Anduccio felt lips on the back of his neck and gasped.
"Ahh... yes..." He squirmed in the tightening embrace. "So I've already learned something 每 why the Doreeq are very popular among men who prefer male bedmates."
"Well done!" The Captain's hand found its way to Anduccio's crotch and coaxed a hissing groan from the young man. "As the Al-Marish say, 'the nights of the desert are long and dark... but the Doreeq know the art of stopping the time and making you wish they'd last forever'."
Duke Dam-Arrakh Anduccio, stark naked, spat some long, dyed-red hairs out of his mouth and ground his head against the shoulder behind him. His lips pulled into a wide smile.
"I promise to be a very diligent pupil."