Here you'll find
The events of Ravens, Owls and a Nightingale are still years away. What happens when some travelling minstrels and their adventurous young friend encounter a mercenary army and its leader?
Terms of Service
It was raining. Again.
At least that was familiar enough. Just like back home in Beltrionas, autumn here – hundreds of miles and countless steps to the north-east – obviously meant cold nights and rain that splashed on the ground even in the middle of thick forest. And yet the chill felt even more pervasive now, not that he really missed home... The tallest of the four wanderers pulled his thick cloak tighter and grimaced to himself.
The woolen cloth was heavy with all the water it had soaked in, but at least it still felt mercifully warm. It was good wool, too, tough and durable, and reflexively he rubbed his chin against the folds when water trickling down his face made it itch. Underneath the hood, his blond hair was wet as well; but then, what wasn't, he thought sourly. He wouldn't even begin listing all those parts of his body that were soaked. Quite especially he wouldn't spare a thought to his feet, even though by now his boots felt like they contained at least half a bucket of water as well.
A glance at his traveling companions told him that none of them was feeling any more cheery than he did. Neiless and Schanil were both carrying those precious lutes in their arms like babies, doing their best to protect them from the rain. Small backpacks protruded like humps underneath their cloaks, but the carefully greased leather bags containing the instruments merited more care and were wrapped under every layer of cloth the two men could spare. The youngest, sixteen-year-old Lynn, had less to worry about, for his flutes and whistles were far less cumbersome to carry, but weariness made even his face unusually somber.
The two older minstrels saw it, too, and Schanil frowned a little to himself.
"We'd better find a place for the night, soon," he said. "Let's face it, we won't make it even close to that village before nightfall, not in this weather, and I for one would like to camp before it's completely dark."
Neiless nodded with a sigh and squinted as he peered ahead, through the falling rain and thickening dusk. "You're right, cousin, we're way too slow on this slippery path and we've been walking since the break of dawn. Let's try to find a place."
The tall trees seemed to close in upon them and the narrow, squishy path as the four men continued onward, eyes trained to find a spot that would be at least marginally dryer than the rest. Too bad that the rain had been falling for hours now and had had time to reach even the more sheltered spots underneath tall firs where the sloping branches usually provided relatively good protection.
All of a sudden Neiless, who was walking ahead, stopped abruptly and raised his face.
"What is it, uncle?" Lynn asked, always quick to react. Neiless glanced over his shoulder at the others.
"Can you smell it?"
"Smoke!" Lynn's face brightened immediately, and Schanil nodded.
"Yes, smoke," he said. "I don't reckon it would be a wildfire, either, seeing how wet it's been these past few days. Somebody's made camp somewhere nearby."
"And that means we'll try to locate it!" Neiless shrugged his backpack more securely on and started towards the faint smell with considerably springier step than just a moment ago, the two other minstrels following his example.
But the tall young man hesitated.
"Maybe it is outlaws?" he said. "Should we first go closer and see if it's safe?"
His companions stopped to look at him, surprised.
"Outlaws or not, they won't do anything to us!" Even though Lynn didn't add the 'of course', it was clearly audible in his voice. "Come on, Sorel!"
"How are you so sure?" the man insisted, and the minstrels sighed in unison.
"We have yet to meet anybody, outlaws or mercenaries or robbers, who'd harm a minstrel," Neiless said patiently. "Should anyone make inquiries about them, we just won't have ever seen or heard anything, and they know it. Come, let's go."
Without wasting any more time, the three minstrels headed in the direction where the smell of smoke seemed to get stronger, Sorel dragging at their heels. He had traveled with the fair trio for a good while now, but he still couldn't help feeling amazed at how trusting they were. All right, so far their approach hadn't failed them a single time; they were truly accepted and welcomed everywhere and by everyone, and Sorel with them. And yet – what if this would prove the exception? What if the charm now chose to fail them?
Oh, but he wasn't going to get separated from them, either! Sorel noticed that a gap was beginning to open between him and the three minstrels, and hastened his step.
After a while they detected a faint red glow between the trees, and when they got closer, their eyes and ears began to make out shapes and sounds amid the quiet hum of rain. Tents, shadows, movement; the rustle of cloth, a crackling fire, the clatter of metal. Horses, several horses that snorted and shuffled among themselves, a little to their left. Voices talking.
"Mercenaries, most likely," Schanil said in a low voice. "They've got a good fire going there and aren't sounding too disorderly yet. We're in luck."
Sorel squinted suspiciously at the camp ahead. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Didn't you want to find –" Neiless began, but his words were cut short by Lynn's loud sneeze and a firm voice that immediately called from somewhere ahead of them:
"Halt right where you are, strangers, and state your business! I can see you well enough to drop you right there if need be."
The four men froze in their tracks, but Neiless was quick to recover.
"We're traveling minstrels, honored sir, seeking for a spot by your fire. Will you please ask if your Count would kindly grant our request?"
"Minstrels?" A broad figure stepped forth from the shadow of a tent. "Aye, I know you by your way of speaking. Just come forward, I know without asking that your people are always welcome here."
Lynn couldn't resist nudging Sorel with an elbow as they trudged towards the guard who eyed them closely.
"You're too tall for a minstrel," he observed to Sorel, though not unkindly. Lynn pressed closer to his friend and raised his face to look at the burly soldier.
"He's a friend traveling with us," the boy stated with confidence. "Just doesn't speak all that much Revnashi yet, because he's not from these lands."
The man nodded and gestured towards the inviting circle around the fire. "We've never had reason to doubt a man whom minstrels call their friend. Go right ahead."
The tents had been pitched in well-ordered groups around a larger open space, and in the middle of it a tighter circle of shelters surrounded a fire large enough to be burning brightly despite the steady rain. A number of men were gathered under the shelters to enjoy the warmth, and Sorel felt how weariness rolled over him as he walked closer with his friends. All eyes turned to look curiously at the newcomers, but he held his head high even though his legs were rapidly turning into lead.
The guard's voice boomed in their ears: "Sir Count, three minstrels and a friend of theirs are looking for a place for the night."
"Thank you, Yorimm," replied a dark voice a little to Sorel's right, and they all blinked as one of the men stood up and stepped closer. "Come over here, minstrels, there's always room for you."
As they settled underneath the blessedly thick canopy, the older minstrels thanked the man profusely and did what they always did first: deposited their beloved instruments in the safest, best protected place they could find. Only then it was time to shed their wet cloaks.
Sorel gratefully followed suit, happy to have a good reason not to look up. He could feel the tall man's assessing gaze on himself but wasn't sure what would be the right way to react. He'd never met mercenaries before but was well enough informed to guess that the man who'd spoken to them had to be the Count, a man commanding his own troops. Sorel knew that any man who called himself a Count was a man to reckon with, and judging by the size of the camp and the number of men around, this Count sure wasn't just someone who'd claimed a nice-sounding title for himself. No, he was indeed sitting in the middle of a true mercenary army and would probably do wisely to follow the example of his more experienced companions.
Lynn grimaced heartily as he tried to arrange his legs in front of himself, and Sorel heard the Count click his tongue.
"You'd better get rid of those wet clothes and boots or you'll catch your death." The man snapped his fingers. "Kariell, get some dry blankets for these poor wretches, they're soaked to the bone."
Neiless sighed their heartfelt thanks as another man crawled out of the shelter and soon reappeared, carrying several large blankets on his arm. Within moments the four travelers had stripped down to their underwear, persuaded off their boots – no mean task, that – and were wrapped in thick, coarse fabric that scratched deliciously on their cold skin. Sorel felt more than a little awkward when he realized that he was sitting there amid numerous powerful, fully-clothed men, himself wearing a blanket and precious little else, but he shoved the thought away and huddled more tightly inside the warm cloth. These people had welcomed them, and everything else be damned!
He pushed his bare feet closer to the fire and couldn't bite back a huge yawn when the glow reached them, making him shiver. A low chuckle from beside him made ants run down his spine.
"Don't fall asleep yet," the Count said. "Or at least have something warm to eat before you do."
Sorel opened his eyes, unsure of when he'd actually closed them, and blinked. Another man was approaching with some plates and a pot that his three friends were already eyeing with undisguised greed. The sight made Sorel's stomach twist into expectant knots as well. The thick, steaming stew was so hot that they had to blow on each spoonful in order not to scald their tongues, and tasted heavenly. Sorel was sure it would've tasted heavenly even if he hadn't been so cold and hungry, and savored the welcome heat that began to invade his body from the inside as well. He had to grin when he noticed that Lynn was slurping his own portion with eyes nearly closed, the way the boy often did when really enjoying something.
Obviously the troops had already had dinner; the Count waited patiently while the four wanderers satisfied their worst hunger, every now and then taking a sip from his mug. As soon as Sorel could begin to think of anything apart from his food, he saw his chance to steal a few glances at the man.
Sorel knew well enough what the Revnashi in general looked like. He'd encountered the adventurous traders for the first time when he'd still been a mere boy in his home village, and had grown somewhat familiar with some of them, the ones who kept coming back to the same villages every few years. Now he'd already spent a good while traveling towards the heart of the area they claimed as their own, had seen hundreds and met dozens of them, women and men, young and old. He knew what the Revnashi were like all right; and yet for some reason the Count made him feel slightly wobbly. In true Revnashi style, the man was tall and dark and strong-boned, obviously fit and muscular – yes, and very handsome too – but there was something more imposing about him than just his good looks.
Another glance, and Sorel almost started when something else struck him: the Count was in fact way younger than he'd first thought. Somehow he had automatically assumed that a mercenary Count had to be a mature, perhaps even older man, but here he was looking at someone whose dark beard did only so much to obscure the youthfulness of his face. In his late or mid-twenties, perhaps? Sure there were some lines and little scars whispering of experience, but the tiny wrinkles around the eyes seemed to tell more of sun and smiles than age, and there was no gray dusting the short hair. And the hand raising a mug to his lips, as hardened and experienced as it looked, didn't belong to an old man, not even a middle-aged one. Long fingers bore calluses from holding weapons and reins, the knuckles showed signs of a recent, slight bruise...
Sorel gulped when a disturbing tongue of heat lapped his body at the sound of the Count's voice. It was low and smooth, an unexpectedly pleasant voice for a warrior. Was it able to roar commands? Did it need to?
Sorel swallowed again to shake the dangerous thoughts away and opened his mouth to reply, but Schanil beat him to it.
"Yes indeed," the minstrel said with feeling, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand, and bowed. "And before we thank you properly, Sir Count, we ask you to please forgive our lack of manners. You have offered us such hospitality but we haven't even introduced ourselves!"
The Count laughed, a rolling, husky sound, and Sorel felt another hot jolt that made him shiver inside his blanket.
"No apologies, minstrels. I think introductions can well wait until more pressing matters have been taken care of, and getting you warm and dry was more important than anything else."
Lynn granted the man a bright smile that made the Count's lips twitch.
"Besides," he continued, "as your host I should've of course started by introducing myself, so as to let you know what kind of people you're going to spend the night with. And now that you look like you're feeling a bit more alive, I might at last do just that. My name's Daynar-Arrgan, and –"
"Daynar-Arrgan?" Neyless and Schanil breathed in unison, while Lynn's eyes and mouth went round. Their reactions made Sorel perk up, and the sleepiness that had been stealthily creeping over him disappeared again in a blink.
"That's my name," the Count said, head tilting. "You sound surprised, minstrels?"
"We've heard of you!" Schanil exclaimed, accompanied by eager nods on both sides. "Why, you and your troops are famous especially in the east, around Feydhor and Farythan! And there's that song about you in the battle of Billass, too."
"Is there?" Count Daynar smiled affably, obviously pleased. "I wasn't aware."
"There is indeed, Sir Count," Neiless assured him, "and we'll be happy to sing it for you, though perhaps not tonight when our lutes are bound to be totally out of tune."
"Don't even think about ruining those beautiful things on my account!" the Count said, eyes twinkling. "But yes, we're all most curious to hear it at some point. I hope it's not too damning, though?"
"Damning? Definitely not!" Schanil looked at the man with open admiration. "Quite the opposite, I assure you! But now it's high time for us to introduce ourselves as well. My name is Schanil Myellan, and these are my cousin Neiless Delyath and my nephew Lynn Myellan, whom we recently took along from his home village in the south."
The Count nodded a polite greeting. "Very recently, if my guess is worth anything. How old are you, Lynn, sixteen perhaps?"
"Yes, Sir Count," Lynn replied proudly. His uncle looked surprised.
"My, but that was a good guess," Schanil said. "Most Revnashi tend to shave off quite a few years when they try to guess our age. So far most everybody's been putting his age around fourteen or so."
"I've met your people before," the Count said with a little smile. "Quite a few, in fact, although it's now a while since we last encountered any minstrels – more's the pity." He looked curiously at Sorel. "But what about your friend? A Belter far from his homeland, unless I'm badly mistaken?"
A surprised Sorel nodded, wishing fervently that he'd had some more time to learn the language better. Neiless smiled.
"You keep guessing with remarkable accuracy, Sir Count. Yes, this is Sorel from Beltrionas. We met him some time ago, journeying towards these lands –"
"I want to be a soldier, Sir Count," Sorel found the words at last, not wanting to leave all the explaining the others. "Please, take me in your army!"
"A soldier? Well well!" Count Daynar arched an eyebrow and exchanged a glance with the tall, scarred man seated next to him. "That's something we'll have to discuss more in the morning. I never accept a man in my troops unless he's good enough – or shows that he's got what it takes to become good enough, with some training."
"I will work hard, Sir Count!" It slipped out before Sorel could properly restrain himself, and he flushed red in embarrassment. Good gods, here he was asking to be trained as a soldier and sounding like an overly eager puppy... probably not the best way to convince anyone!
Count Daynar just smiled, though. "I have no doubt about that, Sorel," he said. "Well, we won't start testing you tonight, but you might perhaps tell me some things about yourself. First of all, how old are you?"
"Nineteen," Sorel replied promptly. "Nineteen, two months ago."
"And what have you been doing these past nineteen years? Farming, hunting, fishing, trapping, building boats?"
"Some trapping, and working on my family's farm, Sir Count." Sorel would've almost given some limb to be able to add real hunting to his list of skills, but he wasn't going to lie. Besides, he had something else to offer in its stead. "Then there was this man who had traveled, he lives near my home and I used to go to him to learn the bow and knives and staff."
"Yes, knives... my parents didn't like it, but I did go anyway," Sorel felt obliged to add. He'd never forget the numerous angry scoldings he'd got from his father for all those hours he'd spent – 'wasted', would his father correct – at the house of the wiry old man, practicing until his arms and hands shook with fatigue.
"You're now talking about the Belter throwing knives, I suppose?" The Count sounded interested. "I'll be curious to see what you can do with them –"
"See that tree?" Sorel interrupted, then briefly considered biting off his tongue. Definitely too eager to please, that’s what he was, eager enough to speak to his perhaps to-be commander without permission. A sure way to get noticed, that...
Count Daynar didn’t seem fazed by his boldness, though, merely glanced at the tall fir Sorel was pointing at and then nodded. "Yes, I do. What about it?"
Sorel hesitated for a brief moment, fingers ghosting on the knife belt that he’d placed next to his bare thigh; he never let it out of his reach, and had taken care to conceal it under the blanket while undressing. Then he pulled out one of the knives and his hand flicked into the open.
Everyone gasped and more than one of the men made to jump up at the wet thud, but Count Daynar gestured them to sit down again. For a moment he just stared at the handle protruding from the tree trunk, then turned to Sorel.
"Impressive," he said with a small, wry smile. "And potentially very dangerous, pulling such a stunt in the middle of experienced soldiers."
"We need to check our visitors more thoroughly from now on, Sir," the scarred man beside the Count murmured, clearly alarmed. "Even those that arrive with the minstrels."
"Come on, Noras, let's not overreact," the Count drawled. "I still trust the judgment of our fair southern friends enough to be sure that they wouldn't bring with them anyone with ill intentions."
He picked up his mug with an appreciative nod. "I've heard of the Belter knives, but I'd never before seen anyone actually use them. Yes indeed, Sorel, I'll be most curious to see what you're capable of!"
Sorel, by now thoroughly embarrassed by his own antics, mumbled a muted "yes, Sir" and scrambled up. Clutching the blanket tight, he walked to the tree on cold wet moss and dirt that squelched under his bare feet, and jerked the knife free. He kept his eyes on the ground, not wanting to see the looks of the Count's men – nor those of his friends. They were bound to be mortified on his behalf.
However, the Count seemed merely fascinated by the display. When Sorel returned to his seat next to the minstrels, the dark man was looking at the knife belt.
"May I?" He reached out his hand and Sorel handed the belt over, rapidly squishing his first reaction, a possessive growl. It didn't do to get jealous over his precious knives in the presence of this man, not if he wanted to have any chance of getting accepted.
The Count studied the belt, fingered the handles and even pulled out one of the knives for a closer look.
"These are very special," he mused and returned the belt to Sorel. "Few knives can be thrown with any real accuracy, let alone with such remarkable aim. These are not a very common weapon even in Beltrionas, are they?"
"N-no, Sir Count," Sorel stammered, hoping that he'd understood correctly. He had already learned that whenever they got to new parts of the Revnashi lands and met new people, it took a while before his ear got accustomed to their way of speaking and he could begin to even try and make sense of the words. The Count was no exception, and besides, the man used far more complicated language than he'd ever heard before. The fact that the Count's voice seemed to be doing odd things to his body only made things worse. "I learned from the old man who lived near my home."
"I see. Ah, but now I observe that at least some of you are getting rather sleepy..."
Lynn quickly smothered a yawn and tried to look alert, but the Count just grinned. "That won't work on me, young Lynn. We'd better find you a place where you can settle for the night."
The big man who'd been seated on the Count's other side offered his own tent for the minstrels and was in turn offered a bed in the Count's own tent. The man, who introduced himself as Merick, took the blanket-clad visitors into a cozy, dry tent, and even if they'd all perhaps intended to stay up a little longer, the wide bed made them quickly reconsider that plan.
Sorel crawled under the thick covers and grinned to himself when Lynn squeezed closer and snuggled against him with a contented sigh. From the boy's other side he heard the rustle of beddings as Neiless and Schanil settled down as well.
"Mmm," Lynn hummed and yawned, one slim arm snaking to hug Sorel's waist. "This is good."
"I am so stupid," Sorel ground out. "Do you think he will take me?"
"Depends," Neiless said. "You were a little rash, I think, though he didn't seem to mind. But you must do very well on the morrow."
"To think that we should meet up with them!" Schanil sounded incredulous. "I'm still astonished at our luck."
"Yes – to meet Count Daynar himself!" Neiless joined in. "Let me tell you, Sorel, that you are a very lucky man if he accepts you."
"Tell me about Count Daynar," Sorel said, curious. "You know his name. What do you hear about him?"
"He and his troops are famous!" Neiless said with emphasis. "For one thing, his men are extremely well trained and efficient."
"And he's said to be very demanding," Schanil added. "If you get accepted into his army, you must be prepared for hard work and strict discipline."
Sorel nodded, then realized that the others weren't too likely to see it in the near-darkness. "I am not afraid of work. But the battles? You talk about some songs?"
"Ah, yes, those. There's a ballad that tells how he and his men won the battle of River Billass. Not by themselves, of course, but the battle was going rather badly for their side until the Count rearranged his troops and pulled some very clever and daring maneuver. And in the end their side won, thanks to them."
"You sound terribly professional!" Neiless chuckled, then huffed when Schanil probably elbowed him in the ribs. "Anyway, that's what the ballad tells. It's a very exciting story."
"He's so handsome," Lynn said dreamily. The older minstrels snorted.
"I wonder – should I tell you some other things that we've heard about him?" Neiless teased.
"You'd better not!" Schanil's voice rose in alarm, but Lynn's curiosity had already been piqued.
"What then?" he demanded. "What else have you heard? Huh?"
"Neiless, shut up this instant! You hear me?"
"We-eell..." Neiless continued, a snicker clear in his voice, "it's said that he's quite the stud in bed. As reported by more than one minstrel, I recall."
"Neiless, you goddamn idiot!"
Sorel's eyes went round, and beside him Lynn let out a barely muted squeal.
"What? What're you saying?"
"Hush, silly," Neiless said. "Remember that we're speaking Revnashi. Someone might hear you!"
"Yes, yes, but –" Lynn hissed, sensibly dropping his voice, "do you really mean that he likes men?"
Schanil heaved a resigned sigh. "That's what we've heard," he admitted. "More than one minstrel has mentioned that the Count has been happy to enjoy their company when the opportunity has offered itself."
"Offered itself..." Lynn quickly muffled a snort into the bedcovers. "That's a way of putting it!" he giggled. "But, oh my, what a thought... and really! Sorel, you lucky bastard!"
"You take it easy now, kid, and shut your eyes – and mouth – for the night," his uncle admonished. "Don't make a fool of yourself."
"I'll close them all right," Lynn sighed. "I'll close my eyes and dream of Count Daynar..."
"Hopeless," Schanil muttered. "I won't forgive this very soon, Neiless."
"Bah, what's the harm in him knowing?" Neiless said with a hearty yawn. "Sleep tight, Lynn, good night, Sorel."
Sorel mumbled a distracted goodnight, hardly hearing as the elder minstrels exchanged a kiss and snuggled closer to each other for the night. Lynn was warm and relaxed by his side, and judging by the slow breathing, the boy was already more than half asleep. Sorel, too, succumbed to weariness and did his best to ignore the specter of a handsome, bearded face that stubbornly hovered in his field of vision. It made his groin throb, and quietly he let his hand sneak to caress his swelling sex, too sleepy to do anything more than give it a few gentle strokes.
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
The next morning was as brilliant as the previous day had been dismal. When Sorel crawled out of the tent to find a spot where he could empty his bladder, he had to squint for a while before his eyes agreed to make out anything but mad sparkles. The sun was rising over the treetops, its rays reflected from all the heavy droplets of dew and rain that still clung to branches, but the wet grass was still cold enough to make his bare feet ache. In the light he could see that this was no accidental clearing in the forest; instead it rather looked like an outlying field or pasture, in all likelihood made by the people living in the elusive village they'd been trying to reach.
On the way back into the cozy warmth of his bed he observed the closest guard, walking slowly but fully alert behind the tents. The man didn't look in the least weary, so there had to have been a change of guards some time during the night. He also spotted the black-and-red patterned flags decorating some of the tents, apparently those of the Count and his closest men. The colors looked strong and determined but dark – no wonder they hadn't noticed the flags and banners in the rain and darkness.
The camp was beginning to wake up, and Sorel settled under the covers for another few moments to listen and wait. He knew that it was useless to try napping any more. He was quickly getting too wound up, too aware of the awaiting trial, and wanted to let at least his body rest a little more. Besides, he didn't want to make a show of himself by traipsing around wearing just a shirt and the spare breeches that had been kept moderately dry inside his backpack.
It seemed to take an eternity until the men were up, the fires lit, and breakfast prepared and consumed. The visitors' clothing was brought back to them, dry and still warm from the fires, and they gratefully slipped into their own garb once more. The troops were going to stay in this camp for at least one day, and the men didn't want to waste another minute of the clear weather and sunshine. Soon all available equipment and clothing had been spread out to dry, either directly in the sun or around the fires that were kept burning all day. Several of the men picked up pieces of equipment – swords, belts, boots, harness – and began to polish or sharpen or grease them with experienced hands. In the daylight it was easy to see that this was something they did regularly: everything was tidy and shiny, leather well greased, metal spotless.
Sorel was on tenterhooks but managed to keep himself in check. He wasn't going to give any more proof of his keenness, instead he was determined to demonstrate his ability for patience. He knew it would be tough but he would do it nevertheless, and was momentarily relieved to realize that Count Daynar wasn't going to make him wait too long. Perhaps the man wanted to get the test over and done with, perhaps he was curious, perhaps he noticed Sorel's impatience and decided to show mercy. Whatever the reason, Sorel nearly let out a sigh of relief when one of the Count's lieutenants came to tell him that he was being expected. Only when he turned to follow the man, he realized that his heart had begun to race like a bolting horse.
When they reached the spot where the Count was waiting, next to a treeless patch of relatively dry and level ground on one side of the tent area, Sorel noticed that practically the entire camp had gathered to watch the show. The notion by no means lessened his nervousness, and the watchful faces of his minstrel friends among the crowd just made his heart take yet another lurch.
"So, Sorel," Count Daynar said, inclining his head to acknowledge Sorel's greeting, "would you tell us once more what kind of weapons you're familiar with?"
"My knives, Sir," Sorel replied promptly, squaring his shoulders to bear the weight of the expectant gazes from all around him. "And longbow and staff."
"Have you ever used a sword?" Sorel's face fell, but Count Daynar just nodded. "No, I thought so... all right, we'll begin with archery. Place the targets."
Two men carried out impromptu targets while Sorel used the precious moments to get his breathing under control and to get the feel of the longbow handed to him. His archery skills, while nothing spectacular, were solid enough for an occasional stroll in the woods looking for some prey – a pastime his father would've strongly disapproved had he known about it – but would they be enough for a soldier? Even more importantly, was he being too nervous to really show what he could do?
Sorel did his best to keep composed even though the required firing rate was way faster than what he was used to, but to his relief every arrow at least scraped the targets. Of course he also had to admit that he'd never even tried shooting from horseback, and felt his heart sink when he saw the Count's thoughtful frown.
"A pity you've never tried," the man murmured. "There's one thing that you'd need to practice a lot, then... Well, how about showing us what you can do with the knives?"
Sorel's confidence soared. This was more familiar territory, and a rush of price shot through him when he noticed the flash of admiration on the Count's face. By the time Sorel went to wrench his blades free from the appointed target and replaced them in his belt, the lieutenants, too, were nodding approvingly and exchanging comments. He knew that he'd done well; the knives had been his favorite toys for years.
The last part was the staff, a travelers staple weapon, and Sorel gulped when he saw the tall and broad Merick step forward to challenge him, an expectant grin on his face. The young Belter grabbed his staff tighter and thought quickly. Merick was sure to have a formidable reach, but in all likelihood he wouldn't be too swift on his feet. Keeping the man at a sufficient distance and relying on speed were therefore his best weapons.
Sorel was soon forced to modify his initial assessment: for a man of his size, Merick was infernally fast. Sorel had to put all his skills and quick reflexes into full use in order to stand his ground, and after parrying some particularly hefty strokes he was also fighting to keep a pained grimace off his face. His hands were numb and tingling from impact and sweat trickling into his eyes made him squint, but he put up a ferocious battle and managed to give his opponent a few smarting strokes. If only he could wipe his face! But that would've meant a one-handed grip of the staff, a definite no-go with such an adversary.
"Enough!" The Count's voice reached Sorel's consciousness and he stopped. "That's enough, Merick. Thank you, Sorel, you may both step back now."
Sorel, panting hard, forced his trembling fingers to loosen their convulsive grip and dried his burning face with a sleeve. Merick raised his own staff in a greeting, then leaned against it and grinned broadly, chest heaving.
"The boy is good, Sir," he said approvingly.
Count Daynar nodded and turned to look at Sorel who tried to gasp in air through his parchment-dry throat.
"I agree, Merick," the Count said. "Not to mention feisty. Now, one more question: how much of a troublemaker have you been back home?"
"S-sir?" Sorel frowned, completely taken by surprise. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean is, how much experience of man-to-man fighting do you have?" Count Daynar's eyes glinted. "Without any other weapons but yourself? Wrestling?"
"Oh!" Sorel's face brightened. "N-not very much, Sir. My home is not near the village and I did not go there often."
"Have mercy on the boy, Sir Count!" put in one of the other men. "That's something he'll learn soon enough. Don't you think Merick already gave him enough of a roughing-up?"
Sorel whirled around to look at the man, ready to protest his willingness and ability to go through as many tests as the Count would deem necessary, then swallowed when he heard the low laughter.
"All right, all right!" The Count folded his arms across his chest and glanced around with a grin. "So, what do you say, my men? Shall we let this youngster join our ranks and train him into a real fighter? Or did I interpret this right, that we've all accepted him already?"
The nods and approving murmur made Sorel's heart swell, and he took a deep breath before clasping the Count's offered hand. The grip was firm, the handshake determined, and when Sorel looked into the Count's eyes (deep blue, he observed), he heard Lynn's loud cheering.
"Welcome to the Black and Reds, Sorel," the Count said with a smile. "I'm sure there are quite a few days ahead when you'll regret that you ever joined, but I hope there'll be many more days when you're glad you did."
"I am sure of that, Sir," Sorel managed, even though for some reason his tongue was trying to tie itself into knots. No, actually he knew the reason well enough, but he did his best not to dwell on it. Of course it was merely his evil imagination that made him think the Count held his hand for a rather long time before finally letting go when all the men gathered around to greet and welcome and congratulate him, to shake his hand and slap him on the shoulder.
The minstrels came to congratulate him, too, and Lynn's whispered "oh, I envy you so much!" – or rather the tone in which it was said – nearly made him crack up. Neiless and Schanil were positively beaming with pride and said as much, many times over. The fuss around Sorel continued until Merick clapped a huge paw on his shoulder and told him that their Sir Count much preferred it if his men at least tried to look presentable at all times.
Sorel took the hint and followed the big man to one side of the camp where two others were waiting. He was told to strip down to his breeches, and while he was happily rubbing his sweaty body with a warm washcloth, the men looked him up and down and then handed to him a new set of clothes. Sorel stared at them, dumbfounded.
"This is for me?"
One of the men nodded. "Surely you've noticed that we're all wearing the same kind of clothes? These are for you."
Sorel hastily pulled the clothes on and was informed that the Count liked his men to look distinctive enough and besides, it was cheaper to buy cloth and have suits sewn in larger batches. That made sense to him but didn't in any way diminish the pleasure he felt when he closed the clasps of his new doublet and straightened himself. The cloth was densely woven and a little stiff – good stuff and not worn enough times to make it more pliable. It smelled of wool and leather and dye, and he smoothed a hand down the leather-padded front just to feel it under his palm.
"Your boots will do for now," the other man said. "But you'd better clean and grease them good, after the drenching they got yesterday."
A few moments later Sorel found himself sitting in front of a tent, hard at work on his worn pair of boots and a smile tickling at the corners of his mouth. His head buzzed with enthusiasm. So this was it now – he'd already been introduced to the Black and Reds, now he was being broken in. He could feel the eyes. Merick had taken him under his wing and shown him around a bit, but all around the men were watching him, assessing him, getting to know him. That was just as well. He would keep his eyes and ears open, stay alert, and try to soak in as much and as quickly as he could. There were bound to be loads of rules and regulations that would be spelled out to him soon enough, and also many unspoken rules and customs that he'd just have to learn on his own. There were those in every group he'd ever encountered, and a small private army was definitely going to be no exception.
The rest of the day flew past, and by the end of it Merick told Sorel that for now he could still go on sleeping in the same tent with the minstrels, while his accommodation and other details were figured out. Sorel welcomed this chance; all of a sudden it dawned on him that things had now changed irrevocably and that he'd soon have to part with them. The thought made his heart twinge. He'd grown fond of the irrepressible trio, and he also felt that he owed them something for all the help he'd got ever since they'd first met.
The three minstrels refused to acknowledge any debt, though. No, they were just extremely happy to see that he had found what he'd been looking for and had secured himself a place with such a renowned and well organized army. Really, he couldn't have done better! And who knew how soon they'd run into each other again? Armies might travel through uninhabited areas but eventually it was castles and their warring lords who needed such armies – and the armies needed the castles and everything they offered. Minstrels, too, frequented castles, so it was only a matter of time before they'd find themselves in the same castle again!
When the night began to fall for real and the men gathered once more around the fires after the day's chores, Sorel became aware of something special in the air. He took Merick's gestured invitation and went to sit next to the big man, a question on his lips. Merick grinned.
"You've given us an extra chance to celebrate a little, kid," he said. "It's not long since we got paid after our latest assignment, we're headed towards another one, there's a new recruit who's joining our ranks, and we even have minstrels around! That's enough reason to make the Count agree to a little party."
"You do not have a party often?" Sorel was amused. Merick shook his head.
"No. There's no real partying when we're on the road, and even in castles and suchlike you'd better watch what you do. It's better not get too drunk, ever." Merick handed him a tankard full of beer. "Our Sir Count has very little patience with men who don't know their limits and misbehave themselves. But I don't think this should make you keel over, anyway!"
The message was clear enough but nevertheless Merick sounded proud, an interesting observation that Sorel carefully filed away for further use. He took the offered drink and gulped from it, letting the sweet taste of beer fill his mouth.
"I will remember," he promised. "I don't want the Count to be sorry that he took me here."
Merick smiled. "I know, kid. Now, how about something to eat while we listen to you minstrel friends?"
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
Sorel didn't have much leisure to fret over his friends' impending departure. After waking up in the morning and disentangling himself from a solidly sleeping Lynn, his day was full of work that kept his mind firmly occupied.
He needed to get introduced to everyone and get at least a rudimentary idea of what the different people were doing. He had to get a grasp of the camp's routines. His training schedule and tutors had to be figured out. The Count wanted to see him on horseback to decide how much and what kind of work would be needed in that area. There was a short break for lunch in the early afternoon, but otherwise Sorel was continuously whisked about until towards the evening he wasn't sure if he could take in a single new thing anymore.
Thus he was very happy when darkness crept over them once more and he could join the others by the fire. This time he chose to grab his dinner and crawl under a shelter that already housed three other men who were talking animatedly about something. They welcomed him with a grin, nodded in understanding when he said that he was too tired to try and speak any more Revnashi that night, and just went on talking to each other. This gave Sorel a good opportunity to listen to them and try to keep up with the rapid flow of words while savoring his dinner. An attempt to understand the main points of the discussion was definitely enough work for his brain at the moment, and at least it helped him keep his eyelids from falling shut too early. It would've been too embarrassing to nod off like some baby, he thought.
A few yards away, Count Daynar sipped from his tankard and resolutely turned his eyes away from the young Belter. Sorel looked ready to drop but was consuming his meal with a healthy appetite, apparently listening attentively to his burly companions. Daynar was too far to make out what they were talking about, but then he wasn't really interested in it either. The light from the fire played on Sorel's blond curls and smooth face, and goddamnit but the Count's gaze kept being irresistibly drawn to his mouth, no matter how many times he'd decided that there was nothing special to look at!
Annoyed, Daynar pressed his lips together and loosened his doublet. The man sitting next to him glanced at him questioningly.
"Something wrong, Sir?"
Damn Noras... "No," he said curtly.
"Well, if you're not having second thoughts about accepting the youngster, my next guess is that you rather like him."
The Count took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly before shooting a quick glare at his best friend. Noras raised a thick eyebrow in reply and took a sip from his tankard.
"Don't you?" he asked, low voice betraying the smirk hidden behind the vessel. "Or am I totally mistaken?"
"No you're not, curse you," Daynar grumbled under his breath. "Though I am having second thoughts all right. Can't help wondering if this was the right decision, after all."
"What do you mean?" Noras frowned. "Why the hell wouldn't you have let the lad join us?"
Daynar didn't reply. For a moment Noras stared at him, then set his drink on the ground and leaned closer, eyes intent.
"Captain, now you listen to me! We were all there to watch while you were testing him, and if you hadn't accepted him after the show he put up, none of us would've been able to understand why. We'd all have thought it unfair. We would've known that there was something else behind your decision, something that doesn't quite bear the light of day, and what do you think that would've done to the morale?"
Daynar sighed but Noras wasn't finished yet.
"Hell, we all know you! You may be so demanding and strict and tough on us that the men sometimes curse you and call you names behind your back, but we know damn well that you're never unfair. And we respect you for that, because that means we can all trust you to look after each one us alike! If you'd –"
"Spare the flattery," the Count grunted. "Yes, I do realize that I couldn't very well turn down someone who's so goddamn eager to join in and shows such potential, without making a complete idiot of myself. I'm just not feeling too comfortable about it at the moment, all right? So let's drop this subject right now."
Noras smothered a grin. "Is this where I should offer to lend a helping hand, Sir?"
"Fuck off, Noras," the Count said amicably.
"I will, as soon as we get to the next place where I can find a willing female to do it with," the other man promised with a wink. "As to your current problem, I bet that you'd only need to lift a finger to get that young minstrel here quicker than the eye can see."
Count Daynar glanced towards the slim youngster and couldn't help noticing how Lynn quickly averted his gaze, looking embarrassed like someone who's been caught doing something he shouldn't. "Granted, he's cute, but..."
"I think he looks a lot like that one little mink we encountered back in Gilfell or thereabouts," Noras continued gleefully. "I bet you still remember him, too. Judging by your looks the next morning he was quite –"
"Did I perhaps tell you to fuck off already?"
Noras knew better than to chuckle aloud at the irate growl. He pushed himself up. "I think I'll have some more beer."
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
Sorel screwed his eyes shut more tightly, but it did nothing to change the facts: he was sporting a solid hard-on. Again. Or still, whichever way he wanted to put it. With a muffled moan he rolled to his side and curled up, fingers closing around his cock. Hadn't he already jerked off three times on the previous night before he could even consider getting any sleep? And he'd been completely exhausted afterwards, so how was it possible that he could wake up this horny?
Sorel clenched his teeth together not to whimper of pleasure and frustration as he massaged his aching balls. How indeed, when his whole night had been one long heated dream, featuring a very distinctive dark-haired, bearded man who'd been doing all kinds of extremely pleasurable things to him. In comparison to that dream his own hand felt hopelessly inadequate, no matter how well it knew where and when to squeeze.
When his breathing had slowed down again, he fumbled for the little towel he'd grabbed to bed with him in the evening and wiped himself clean with trembling hands. On the other bed, Neiless and Schanil were still sleeping soundly; well, at least he hadn't woken them up. Sorel sighed and tried to calm down.
He tried not to think about where Lynn was at the moment, but highly unwanted pictures kept flickering across his mind. Lynn, damn the boy, was exactly where Sorel would've wanted to be: sleeping in the Count's tent, and if he was true to his usual habits, he was probably wrapped around the man so tight that an ant trying to squeeze between them would soon give up and pronouce the effort hopeless.
Sorel's hand balled into a fist. Somehow he'd been so sleepy in the evening that he'd totally missed how exactly Lynn had first ended up sitting there, next to the Count. At some point he'd just glanced that way and nearly choked on his food at seeing the two chatting happily with each other. Some time later, when the boy had simply vanished into the Count's tent, Sorel had been hard put to stop his jaw from dropping into his lap, and his imagination had gone completely berserk. Luckily he'd been yawning heartily enough until then, so that he could credibly accuse sleepiness and retire soon thereafter.
The two older minstrels had, perhaps wisely, chosen to stay by the fires quite a bit longer, which had given Sorel plenty of time alone with his rampant mind. When he hadn't been too busy trying in vain to satisfy the demands of his body, he'd been marveling at how openly the whole thing had happened. All right, the situation had basically looked innocent enough – no touching, nothing conspicuous there. And yet the Count had not even tried to hide the fact that he and Lynn, the lithe little imp, had retired into his tent together and hadn't reappeared since.
The men had noticed it all right; there'd been meaningful glances and smirks and raised eyebrows, surreptitious nudged and nods towards their leader's dwelling. But no lewd remarks or sneering, no. It had seemed to be a shared secret, something that everybody knew about but didn't discuss.
Amazing as it was, though, the main thing still remained: Lynn had spent the night with Count Daynar. Sorel swallowed the growl rising from his throat and pushed the covers aside. He was done sleeping, and nothing he could do would ease this stubborn, furious itch anyway. He wasn't going to lie here and wait for Lynn to crawl back from his escapade. No, Sorel didn't want to see how blissed-out the boy would look!
He sat up, pulled on his new clothes and arranged himself in them as best he could, then picked up the soiled, crumpled towel. His nose wrinkled. He'd better go and try to wash it.
Sorel did catch a glimpse of the youngest minstrel some time later, and the sight made him chew his lip. Lynn's expression was smugly pleased, no other words could describe it, and Sorel fled. His new trousers were feeling rather unbearably tight at the groin already, and he certainly didn't need to hear a single word about the previous night.
However, around noon he saw something that made him forget his earlier resolution: the three minstrels were squatting in front of their temporary accommodation and obviously packing. Sorel nearly ran to them.
"What's this? You are leaving?"
"Yes, we are." Neiless flashed him a bright smile. "We were just about to come looking for you."
"Yes, but –"
"You will stay here a few more days and rest the horses, but men will be riding to the village today for some supplies," Schanil went on. "They promised to take us along. The village is quite close to a bridge across the river, and from there we only have a short way to go to the big road."
Sorel sighed. Of course he knew that the minstrels would've been fools not to take such a chance to get somewhere without resorting to their own legs for once, and that their destinies were bound to follow different paths. He'd known it all along. And yet...
"That is very nice for you," he said. "But... thank you. Thank you, for everything. I will miss you, my friends."
"Oh, we'll miss you a lot!" Schanil took the offered hand and they hugged each other tight. "But remember, we'll always be your friends – and now we feel good even though we're parting ways with you."
Neiless nodded emphatically. "That's right. We know that you couldn't have joined a better group of men, and we also know that you'll do just wonderfully with them."
"You'll be a hero as well," Lynn chimed in. He wrapped his slim arms around Sorel's waist and buried his face in the front of the black doublet. "But remember, don't get yourself killed, all right?"
"I won't," Sorel promised, voice cracking a bit, and hugged the boy tight, then ruffled his hair. "And you – take good care of yourselves."
He followed his friends to where the three appointed men were already preparing their horses and listening to the last instructions from the master of supplies. The blond nomads settled on horseback behind the soldiers, and then all Sorel could see were their backs over the quarters of the horses. Lynn, peering back over his shoulder and smiling, waved his hand one more time and Sorel swallowed as he raised his own hand in farewell.
When he couldn't make out even the tail of the last horse, he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. Now he was truly on his own, he was in the lands of the Revnashi, and there was work to do.
In between various routine chores and weapons training sessions, Sorel had very few moments to spend missing his departed friends. He only saw the Count once or twice and thus didn't have the chance to find out if the man looked as pleased as Sorel thought he would, but that was just as well. Better not let his mind dwell too much on that topic, anyway, and his busy schedule made it a lot easier.
It also ensured that by the evening he was once more bone-tired – hopefully tired enough to actually sleep despite being horny, Sorel thought irritably. He decided not to give in to his exhaustion quite as soon as he'd done on the day before, and settled by the fire to listen to the other men's chatting and bantering. It was a good pastime.
Unfortunately he'd also happened to choose – quite inadvertently, he told himself – a spot where he could all the time see the Count in the corner of his eye. The dark commander was again sitting with his trusted Noras and two others, but for some reason he didn't seem to be in particularly good mood. Sorel frowned a little to himself, but apparently it was nothing too serious because the others, especially Noras, seemed totally unperturbed and were happily chatting on.
Was he staring again? Sorel checked himself and forced his attention once more to his closest companions.
The night got darker and darker and the group began to thin as men were settling down for the night. Count Daynar got up as well and retired, and Sorel let out a silent sigh. Yes, it was time to crawl into the tent he would now share with Merick and to attend to the problem that had made him bite his lips rather too many times already that day: his persistent erection. He pushed himself up and picked up his mug from the ground. Might just as well go and get some water, in case he'd be thirsty when waking up; a distinct possibility, that. Sorel grimaced to himself. He could only hope that he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of Merick.
"That's a good idea."
Sorel closed the faucet on the side of the water barrel and turned around. Noras was standing there with a tankard in one hand and looking at him quizzically, the way he always looked because of the jagged scar that split his right eyebrow in two and twisted the lid into that eternally scornful squint.
"Getting water for the night," Noras said. He handed the tankard to Sorel. "Here, you might fill this and take it to him."
"To whom?" Sorel asked, even though his windpipe felt like someone was squeezing it shut.
"Count Daynar, of course." Noras smirked. "I wouldn't be running errands for anyone but my commander."
Running errands? Noras? Sorel blinked. Over the couple of days he'd spent in the camp of the Black and Reds he had noticed that while the Count was the undisputed leader of his men, he wasn't one to order any one of them around at will. Particularly not Noras, who was several years older than his obviously good friend and was treated as an equal.
Noras tilted his head and Sorel kicked himself back into order. What was this dawdling? Noras, the Count's right-hand man, was standing in front of him and telling him to do something! He quickly took the offered tankard.
"Yes, sir. Sorry. I will do it, sir."
"Good lad," Noras said and turned to go, smiling faintly to himself. Sorel decided not to try and interpret that smile, just filled the tankard from the barrel and then headed towards the Count's tent, heart pounding hard.
Outside the tent he stopped to splash off some of the water – it had been spilling over the rims anyway because he'd filled it too much – and then pushed the door flap out of the way.
"Sir Count, here's the water."
He stopped, the flap falling against his back, while the Count straightened himself and turned slowly around, dropping the shirt in his hand on the bed.
He had stripped down to his trousers and the soft light of a small lamp, placed in a metal stand stuck into the ground, was playing on his bare upper body. Sorel just gaped and forgot to breathe. The man was broad-shouldered and wide-chested, with the strong arm muscles of someone who has spent years training to use weapons, and his dark hair was mussed. Sorel wanted to sink his fingers into it.
For a moment the man just looked at him, lips parting as if to say something. Then he licked them and seemed to catch himself. Sorel wondered if he should've done something to announce himself before entering, but what? He couldn't very well knock on a door flap, could he?
"So thoughtful of you." The Count stepped closer to take the offered cup. Sorel told himself to bow and back out once more, but his feet refused to move and so he just stood there, within an arm's reach from the tall, dark, half naked man and could only think of how the black hair on the Count's chest formed a triangle standing on its one corner and pointing down...
"Noras told me to bring it, Sir," he managed to explain, not quite sure why an explanation was necessary. Oh yes, right – he needed to excuse himself, give a reason why he was here. Then he was groping for an excuse why he was still standing there as if rooted to the ground and feasting his eyes on the sight, but his brain would only came up with Belter, not a single word of Revnashi.
The Count let out a low sound that was something between laughter and snort. "Noras... might've guessed."
Sorel could almost feel the man's breath on his face. He definitely did feel and smell the warmth of that body. He had to get out, now, or he would do something stupid.
"Noras is an old friend who knows me pretty well. And I bet he, too, noticed how you kept looking at me just a while ago."
Sorel flushed deep red but nevertheless raised his chin to meet the man's gaze – it was the truth, after all. He had been looking. The Count was breathing hard and the look in his eyes made Sorel swallow.
"And you've been traveling with the minstrels..."
Sorel opened his mouth to reply, but he forgot what he'd been about to say when a large hand descended on his hip. It slipped behind his waist and squeezed just a little, and a groan escaped him at the resulting surge of pure heat into his groin.
The Count's eyes were slightly narrowed, they looked black in the darkness as they studied Sorel's face, his expression. The hand crept backwards, towards his butt, squeezed again, and Sorel clenched his teeth together to stay silent. A hint of a smile ghosted on the lips surrounded by dark beard, at the same time arrogant and tentative, Sorel saw it and heard the unspoken question and couldn't take it anymore. He swore aloud in Belter, arms snaking to circle the Count's waist tight.
When their bodies hit together, Count Daynar's grin broke through at last. Sorel splayed his fingers to better feel the warm, bare skin and muscle under his hands, dug his fingers into the man's back and ground his pelvis hungrily against the Count. His tightly confined erection met the hard ridge that made Count Daynar's trousers bulge at the front, and he saw stars. This was just too good, and he was so incredibly horny and needy and whatnot that he wanted to howl. Wise? Who cared? All that mattered was that ever since his first good look at the Count he'd only needed to think of the man to get aroused like never before. And that, judging by the hands roaming inside his shirt and undoing the fastenings of his trousers, the Count was at least as eager to get on with this as he was.
And then the Count was kissing him, kissing hard, Sorel could feel teeth and tongue and he thrust his own tongue to meet it. The man tasted of beer and pure want, he was growling something under his breath but Sorel couldn't make himself listen. He listened instead to the hands on his skin. Hard, demanding hands that knew what they wanted. Oh, and he knew what he wanted, right now, quick, except that –
"Wait," Sorel panted into the kiss, hands trying to grip the man harder at the same time. "No, wait!"
The Count pulled away enough to peer at his face, then he chuckled and the hand working on Sorel's trousers slipped away. Sorel knew that within seconds he was going to come in his pants like an overexcited kid but couldn't stop, and a hiss of frustration escaped him when the man pushed him further. Count Daynar laughed.
"No, I won't wait," he said under his breath. "And you don't want to wait, either. Come here."
Sorel's hands were so unsteady that he had trouble getting rid of his clothing quickly enough. Count Daynar grimaced as he undid his own trousers and slid them down, peeled his breeches off and straightened his back once more. Sorel was battling with the laced front of his shirt, but when he got his first look of his commander in all that naked, aroused glory, his fingers knotted themselves completely. The Count shook his head, eyes gleaming with amusement and lust.
"Didn't I tell you?" he said, gently releasing Sorel's cock from its prison at last. "Not waiting much longer."
Sorel kicked off the rest of his clothing and slipped quickly under the bedcover that the Count raised for him, holding his breath in anticipation. The dark man followed, arms sliding to embrace him, lips clamping on his neck, and Sorel tried not to moan too loudly. This was what he'd been dreaming about all along: a man, a big strong mature man to hold and bite and rub against, someone to wrestle and get rough with. This was pure heaven... but this heaven existed inside a tent surrounded by numerous others, each housing his new brothers-in-arms, and he'd better remember to try and stay quiet. He sure as hell didn't want the entire camp to hear just how much he was enjoying this!
The Count was a good and enthusiastic kisser, Sorel observed muddily, and those large, long-fingered hands also knew how to hold something else than a sword or the reins of a horse. They were exploring and stroking and massaging him in all the right places with such skill and confidence that soon he was gasping for breath and just clinging to the man with every limb he had. He let out a moan when his legs were nudged apart and a muscled thigh slipped between them – and all too soon he was already seeing stars and coming hard, spilling himself all over them both and into the Count's expert hand.
Sorel blinked, trying to focus on Count Daynar's face above him. The man was smiling a little and holding him very tight, and when the Count moved a little, Sorel became aware of the hardness pressed against his hip. He squirmed around just enough to snake a hand between them to touch it, let his fingers slip around it, and laughed breathlessly at the Count's involuntary shudder.
He weighed the cock on his palm and began to pump it slowly. It was so slick and hard and thick, so gorgeous... Sorel grinned to himself when Count Daynar's eyes slid shut and the man buried his face into Sorel's neck, groaning every time Sorel's thumb brushed over the head of his cock. He could feel the throbbing, the tightening of muscles, the jerk of hips, and then the hard, hot spurt of pleasure. Sorel smiled triumphantly in the darkness.
"By Geyrell's blades," Count Daynar murmured when he finally caught his breath enough to speak. "You are just..."
"I am what?" Sorel sighed when the Count finally stopped kissing him. He nibbled on the man's lower lip with his front teeth and the Count grinned.
"Making me crazy, that's what." He frowned, then reached out and fumbled for something that he obviously knew to be around. "Here, let me clean you a little."
Sorel obligingly turned enough to allow the towel better access, then settled back against the Count and wrapped his arms around the man. Count Daynar grinned broadly and rolled on top of him, bracing himself on his elbows to take some of the weight off but still effectively pinning Sorel down. It felt glorious and Sorel hummed with pleasure; he was rapidly getting properly hard again and he knew Count Daynar could feel it, too.
"Horny boy," the Count teased, rolling his hips against Sorel and thereby making it amply obvious that he wasn't only talking about his bedmate. Sorel bit his shoulder in return and he laughed quietly. "I hope you don't think this is the way to get forward here, though?"
It took a moment before the meaning of the words penetrated and Sorel's eyes flashed with rage and hurt, but the Count was both quicker and stronger than him and was clearly prepared for a reaction. Before Sorel properly even realized what had happened, hands were nailing his wrists into the bed and the man's entire weight kept him in place so that he couldn't as much as kick with any efficiency, only growl.
"No, I didn't really think so." Count Daynar shook his head. "Upon my word, Sorel, I did not."
Insulted, Sorel ground his teeth together and glared up at the Count who tilted his head questioningly.
"Will you bite me if I kiss you?" he asked in a low voice. "I would very much like to. And I want you again. Want you so goddamn much."
His expression was sincere and Sorel's fury subsided a little. The Count had every right to be suspicious, he told himself. This was outrageous conduct by any standards. Here he was, in his new commander's bed... though, for that matter, exactly how customary would that be?
"Never happened to me before," the Count murmured as if in reply to Sorel's thoughts. His grip on Sorel's wrist loosened and then fingers were sliding into blond curls, playing with them. "I was already cursing myself for letting you join in... but there was no way I could say no because you were so good." He kissed Sorel's jaw. "So goddamn promising. I couldn't tell you to go away just because merely looking at you makes my head spin and my mouth go dry and my cock hard."
Sorel answered the slow kiss, struggling to fully understand the words, then decided to understand at least the apology and desire in the Count's smooth, deep voice. The beard tickled on his skin as lips trailed lower on his chest, found a nipple and clamped around it, making him gasp and arch up. Yes, his body had already forgiven the man...
"You're fucking dangerous," Count Daynar told him, the tip of his tongue making circles on Sorel's chest. "You look like an angel but make me so horny that I can't think straight and do things I never even dreamed of doing."
"What are you saying?" Sorel gripped the thick, coarse hair with both hands and pulled the Count up so that he could see his face. The man smiled and shook his head.
"Never mind. Mostly just talking to myself."
"Sir, I know I should not –"
"Shhh. Let's think about that later." The Count's hand slid down along Sorel's side, hard and gentle at the same time. "There's no need to worry, Sorel. Not now, not in the morning... and by the way, the name is Daynar."
"I want to you call me by my name when you're in bed with me," the Count specified. "Try it."
"Yes, Daynar. Sir." Sorel managed to keep a straight face barely long enough to utter it, then grinned wickedly.
Count Daynar rolled his eyes. "That's not exactly what I meant!"
Sorel couldn't completely bite back a yelp when the Count suddenly grabbed him into a full body lock and rolled around so that he found himself lying on top of the man. A brief struggle followed as they retrieved the blankets, most of which had been crumpled underneath, and pulled them once more over themselves. The air inside the tent wasn't much warmer than the outside and the chill bit nastily on sweaty skin, so it was admittedly far more pleasant to be securely tucked in once more.
"You know what I'd want to do now?" Daynar's eyes glittered in the dim light of the small lamp. Sorel shook his head, shuddering with pleasure at the fingers that twirled around his balls. "I'd like to lick you here..."
"I think you'd like it, too," the man purred, rubbing softly right behind the sac. "Yes, I'd like to roll my tongue around, right here, until you're all wet and slippery, and then when you just can't take it any longer..."
Sorel's eyes flew wide open and he couldn't quite help tensing up, even though he was still rocking into the hand teasing his hole. Daynar arched an eyebrow.
"What, do I get to be the first in?" His other hand cupped the back of Sorel's head and pulled him closer for another kiss. "In that case we'll save it till later. I want to do it somewhere nice and warm and comfortable, when we can take things slow and easy. Not now. I don't think I'm up to anything 'slow' tonight."
He rolled his hips underneath Sorel, letting their erections rub together, and Sorel bit his lip to stay quiet. He wanted to come so badly. He wanted to savor this pleasure longer. He needed the release now. He wanted this to go on and on and on, and he wanted to curse because the Count was spurring him on and yet slowing down when he felt ready to explode. The hand around his cock was so slick and sweet and firm, the thighs clamping his waist so strong and hard, and –
"Wha..." Sorel's fingers dug into Daynar's shoulders when his lust-hazed brain registered what was happening and he stared at the man, uncomprehending. This... this was a situation that he hadn't been able to even imagine, not in his wildest dreams. Daynar winked and gave his spit-slicked cock an encouraging squeeze that made Sorel's eyes cross.
"This is called 'sex'," he drawled. "C'mon – I have it on good authority that you've done this before."
"Push," Daynar sighed. "I want you, angel boy, and I don't give a damn which way we do it, as long as we do it right now!"
Sorel pushed. Hesitantly at first, all the time looking at Daynar's concentrated face, slowly, until he was buried to the hilt in that tight heat. The Count granted him a lopsided grin, muscles clenching so that Sorel's breath hitched, and in a blink the last of his self-control was stripped away. With a growl he pulled out a little and rammed in again, and again, and again, feeling Daynar's heavy, rock-hard cock against his belly at every thrust, their bodies falling into a heated rhythm.
Harder. There was no need to be cautious, not with this man who kissed him voraciously and swore aloud when Sorel's cock hit home, large hand closing over Sorel's fingers around his own erection. No, there was no need to hold back, not with Count Daynar who sure knew what he wanted and how to get it. Mouths crushed together as they kissed and clawed and fucked and grabbed each other, not caring if they left bruises, biting and licking, tasting sweat and lust and, finally, completion.
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
For a few moments Noras stood outside the tent and listened, then nodded to himself. Yes, they were awake enough and not doing anything too intense...
He rapped his fingers against the thick fabric. "Morning, Captain. I brought you some warm water. Thought you might need it."
As he pushed the door flap open enough to set a small bucket inside, he took the opportunity to take a peek inside. It was dark, of course, but Noras could faintly see Daynar push himself up on one elbow and peer towards the door over a blond head, looking disheveled.
"Thank you, Noras," the Count replied in a low voice. "Though I'm not sure whether I should thank you or punch you, you manipulative bastard."
Noras grinned. "Oi, Captain, you wound me. And what do you mean, you don't know? The lad wouldn't be there any more if you had no reason to thank me, methinks!"
"You're one smug devil," Daynar growled lazily.
Noras chuckled as he turned to go. So far, so good, he thought to himself; seemed that it had indeed been enough to shove the lad inside the tent and let things take care of themselves. He was ready to wager that the situation would be far less tense now, not that the men would've had any chance to notice anything out of the ordinary – not yet.
But Noras had noticed, and he knew that his young commander had never before fallen so quickly and so hard for anyone. He'd known Daynar ever since the two of them had come together as brothers-in-arms, Daynar still in his teens, himself a young man already with some experience of real action. The intense and aloof young man with towering ambition and a steely self-control to match it had impressed Noras so thoroughly that he'd made the decision to stay by Daynar's side, come what may. That had been a decision he'd never needed to regret, one that had paid off many times over. And over the years he'd got to know Daynar and become his most trusted and valued friend. If anyone could claim to know the determined Count, Noras could.
He also knew of his commander's preferences, and how strictly Daynar kept himself reined in. So far only the minstrels had been legitimate prey, minstrels with their sometimes outlandish ways and twinkling eyes and surreptitious flirting. Then, three nights ago, that wiry, long-limbed young thing had walked into the camp and sat down, ruffled his wet golden hair and peeled off his drenched shirt, and Noras had seen how his imperturbable, unreadable Captain had swallowed hard and guiltily averted his eyes.
That little incident had alerted him, and on the following days he'd seen enough of tiny but telltale signs to be on his guard, ready to sniff any potential trouble. Then he'd noticed Sorel's glances, and the final proof had been the youth's barely contained agitation on the previous night when the Count had shared his bed with the young minstrel. Noras had been hard put not to grab the youngster and simply push him in as well, but had resolved to wait anyway. The minstrels would be gone soon but Sorel would stay.
Well, this little experiment could easily end in disaster, Noras thought, but for now it was definitely better that both of them had the chance to take off the worst edge of their lust. The air was bound to be clearer now, he had done what he could, and the rest was really up to Daynar. Of course Sorel would have his say as well, but mainly it all hinged on how Daynar would choose to handle the new situation. And Noras had full confidence in his Captain's good sense.
The tall man smirked to himself, shook his head and headed towards the fire where the men doing kitchen duty that morning were preparing breakfast. It had better be substantial enough; there were going to be some ravenous people around.
~ The End ~