It was all quiet.
Strange, Hammand thought. “Mother?”
There was no answer. Instead a maiden scrambled over, bowing. It crossed Hammand’s mind that she looked somewhat unsettled. But it didn’t make sense so he brushed it off.
“My Prince, the advisers are in the meeting chamber. The Queen left a message that she will not be joining you for this meeting but you will meet with her on her return.”
Prince Hammand nodded, hiding his slight exasperation as he headed for the chamber.
His mother’s quarters were massive and even grander than his, as would be expected of a queen of her stature. There were about fifteen rooms all connected by wide corridors and a high ceilinged general area where he and his siblings had played as children.
He made his way to the chamber, wondering for a split second before he pulled aside the heavy curtain why the advisers were so quiet. They were usually very loud and boisterous. He had no chance to voice his thoughts, for he was surprised by the appearance of seven men all with gold masks covering their faces. He was grabbed by the two nearest to him and lifted up unceremoniously.
It took him a minute to register shock at someone laying hands on him, something that was unthinkable in his land. He began to struggle, his mind crying out for Asgar and wishing he had not let him go with his mother.
There was a bed at the far center of the room, resplendent in gold sheets similar to the masks on the faces of the men holding him captive. He stared around in even more consternation.
What is this?
As soon as he saw that there was a young woman under the sheets, face equally hidden, he knew immediately what was happening—what his mother had done. It all came to him: the gold everywhere was symbolic of the virginal ritual, normally performed on a royal’s wedding night.
Only in his case, his mother was taking matters into her own hands knowing full well that he would be betrothed after the festival and so there would be no more tests. How could she?
“Nooooooo–” he screamed as loud as he could.
Unfortunately they were ready for that and gagged him fast. His clothes were torn off him as he screamed helplessly into the gag. An order was grunted by a voice he did not recognize and the woman moved off the bed. He was dragged onto the bed and his limbs were tied tightly to the bedposts.
He was crying now, terror clouding his mind. The woman seemed apprehensive at his reaction to the sight of her. It seemed this was not what she had expected. She started to protest but was dragged to the far side of the room.
One of the men came forward, blocking Hammand’s line of sight to the woman. But not before he could see her being prepped and instructed sternly as she shook with fear at seeing it was the prince and he was being forced.
The man had a vial in his hand. He pulled Hammand’s gag down roughly.
“Where is my mother?” Hammand cried raggedly. There was only one other person in his mind that could help him. “Asgar!” he screamed.
The vial was steadily poured into his mouth. His nostrils were held closed to force him to swallow. He did and this fact made him cry even more.
“This should help,” sneered the man who appeared to be in charge as it was poured. “So there are no issues with the cock awakening.”
Hammand struggled as much as he could not to swallow but only managed to spit out a little bit of it onto the man’s chest, coughing as he did. The man patted his back hard, looking angrily at him. Suddenly he was blindfolded as well as gagged.
His groans were left unheeded. It was obvious no one was listening to him. In his mother’s chambers. They must be under orders. From her? His mother?
The leader yelled an order out, smirking as the woman immediately switched to whore mode, slinking to the bed as if the small prince could actually see her.
Asgar Asgar Asgar…!
* * * *
Four beggars stumbled along the stony path. They were covered in dirty rags and stank to high heaven, moving in strange unison. As they passed by, those who noticed them became perplexed. Beggars were not exactly known to travel together, spoils would be shortened otherwise and there would be much less to share between four. A half-rotten apple for one was infinitely better than a half-rotten apple for four.
People around them kept their distance and so did the beggars, for they were searching for the bold, nosy people who would notice things happening around them. It had led them to the gates of Renadi after all. They hoped for more.
“Hey!” called Mustapha, the owner of the largest rice stall in the market. He was fat and stocky with a large belly that jiggled when he spoke but his face was open and welcoming.
“Four beggars together? Maybe not such a good idea?” He laughed out loud, holding onto his belly. A good number of the neighboring traders joined in, still keeping well out of the way.
The beggars stopped, looked shiftily at each other for a minute. They shuffled closer and whispered to each other in a strange tongue that even the sharpest ears would not understand. Not in these parts anyway. They made a decision and moved over to Mustapha’s stall.
“A minute of your time, sir,” said the one standing closest to him. Mustapha stared hard at the dirty face speaking to him. The voice was… was not that of a beggar. Not at all. It was stern, authoritative.
Mustapha thought fast, wondering what to do. He suddenly felt a bit unsure of himself. They were all surrounding him now, looking right at him and he realized that their faces did not look nearly dirty enough. And their teeth were all there… and white. Too white.
No beggar he had ever seen had a full set of teeth, and they were never ever white. Most times they were so black you could not tell if they had any teeth at all. But these men; their teeth looked better cared for than his.
His heart stopped for a second and then thumped fast and hard.
They were in disguise.
His eyes widened with interest and he nodded conspiratorially, beckoning them into the large stall and moving to one side. they kept going until they reached the back of his stall, entering into the storage room that had no views to the outside.
The fear remained but Mustafa’s love for conspiracies and intrigue overshadowed it tremendously.
There was no small talk despite Mustapha’s wide toothed smile. The men kept straight faces, all standing stiff and fully upright now
Warriors? Guards? Definitely disguised, the trader thought proudly to himself at having uncovered their charade.
The apparent leader held his hand out behind him and the one closest to him unwrapped a raggedy looking parcel to reveal a small, exquisitely framed painting. He handed the leader the frame and it was unceremoniously pushed it before Mustapha.
“Do you know this man?” he asked quietly.
Mustapha looked. It was a handsome painting of a huge, magnificent man. He was dressed in full royal regalia; something that Mustapha had never seen before but knew was way out of his league. He had seen the Renadi royals a good number of times and they didn’t dress this way.
The face was somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He had definitely seen him somewhere before. He shook his head slightly as he tried to think.
“He looks familiar I must say. But I cannot tell where from.” He scratched his head, cursing softly to himself.
The leader’s eyebrows raised for a split second at this but the trader missed it as he continued to sift through his memory for the elusive information.
“Who is he?” he asked. “Maybe that would revive my memory.”
“That is not for you to know.” The leader’s voice was clear in it’s warning, even though his face remained expressionless.
Mustafa shivered but kept on. “Even though it might help?”
“I do not believe it would. He is not this way now so you would not have come upon him dressed in this manner… not in these parts and not in recent times.” He sounded… sad?
Mustapha stared hard at the picture as he took in the man’s words. It was obvious they were searching for a missing person. Someone they respected… he could tell from the words just spoken and from the solemn faces of the other men. But why…?
He did not realize he had spoken out loud and jumped when the leader replied.
“He is a very important person and we have but a short time to find him,” he said. “You will be greatly rewarded for any information you can give us.”
“I think I have seen him somewhere. I cannot recall for the life of me…”
The leader was quiet for a while, letting the trader think some more. When he shrugged in defeat, the leader signaled to his men and they all resumed their hunched positions, taking on the personas of beggars once more.
“Tell no one of us. We will continue our search. If you remember anything, just hold on to the information for we shall come through these parts again soon.”
Mustapha nodded, slowly rubbing his hands together as the men shuffled out.
The leader turned around, last at the door. “Tell no one of us beggars, trader. It is on promise of death if you do.”
“No one, sir. I will tell no one. I swear on Isis.” Mustapha trembled. “I will await your return.”
He sank into the nearest chair as the men disappeared. Where had he seen this man? Where?
* * * *
Queen Shila paced up and down the little room she had shut herself in as soon as she had been informed that Prince Hammand had entered her chambers. Her staff knew what to do and she trusted them to do it well without harming her son.
She dreaded what his reaction to her might be afterwards. She knew their relationship might never be the same again – no – she would not think of that.
It had to be done, to get Hammand away from that slave of his. Other than killing the slave, which she feared could lead to her son taking his own life, this was the only option. Hammand needed to focus on women, specifically the Princess Sava his betrothed
The marriage would settle some heavy debts. She knew it was either that or they would lose a significant portion of their lands. The loss of lands was incalculable to say the least. It would come with loss of power and their place in the hierarchy of Goren. They could not lose their position, especially when the marriage would increase their status, with Hammand becoming their crown prince as well. It had to happen, whether he liked it or not.
This was the best they could do and it had to work.
It had to.
She ignored her shaking hands, forcing herself not to think of what her son would be going through, what Miriam would think of her, what they would both think of her after this…
Thank the gods the walls could carry no sound. She was not sure she would have managed the wait if she could hear her son.
* * * *
It was when a priest stepped into the meditation room where Asgar was waiting in and expressed a great deal of surprise to see him that Asgar realized something was amiss.
He watched the old man go about his business lighting up candles in the room after they exchanged greetings.
What had the queen brought him here for? His heart pounded in his chest until he was breathless.
He had no idea why but the feeling of foreboding grew steadily and painfully. Time began to creep by at a snail’s pace as he watched the old man. There were a lot of candles in the room and his hands shook quite badly. Asgar knew it would be insulting to offer assistance of any kind.
“May I speak?” he asked respectfully when the man was finally done.
“Yes you may my son. We have no slaves here, you are free in our eyes.” The old man smiled, clasping his hands together attentively. “How can I help you?”
“The queen… I have been waiting…”
The priest pursed his lips, looking slightly irritated at the mention of the queen for a moment. He took a deep breath before replying. “Is there a reason… did she ask you to remain in here?”
Asgar looked puzzled as he nodded. His heart thumped, an inch away from painful.
The priest continued. “The queen only spent a few minutes here and that was to speak to the head father. If you came with her I would assume there was a reason you were left in the dark about her movements. She never returns on the same day. She will not be coming back today.”
Oh Isis. Asgar groaned inwardly. He jumped to his feet, his huge frame shaking. “I am free to leave?” The priest nodded, beginning to look concerned. “How long since she left?”
“Two cycles… almost three.”
Asgar forced away the pain that raged through him and let the fear fuel his limbs. He ran, heavy footsteps thundering through the hallways and out into the street, on the thankfully straight path to the palace.
He ran with all of his heart and all of his might, not knowing what awaited but determined to get to his beloved. His thoughts were erratic, warring against each other – the queen could not harm her son; nothing was beyond her; it was not possible; it could not be possible…
The road was long and unfriendly to feet, with jagged cobbles all the way, paved so to make it easier for the gentry in their carriages. Asgar’s light but usually adequate sandals shredded in no time and he cut his arms and elbows a few times as he rushed past the endless lines of kiosks and trees without care.
People stopped and stared as his feet began to leave a trail of blood. Some called after him, offering to tend him, to help.
Still he ran.
Right past the shuffling beggars.
* * * *
Asgar stumbled through the palace gates, panting in painful breaths. He had run a very long way but now that he was here, his fear was absolute.
His legs shook as he made his way through a throng of curious people, unable to respond to greetings; his sole focus was on getting to his prince.
He didn’t bother with Prince Hammand’s chamber. Something told him to head straight for the queen’s.
Queen Shila had a triumphant look on her face when she stood at the entrance of her chamber, having just received confirmation from the advisers surrounding her that it had all gone to plan. Her expression did not change when she saw Asgar but it did falter just a little. Then she remembered that the deed was done and smiled brightly, signaling the guards to let him through.
Asgar said nothing to her. He walked warily past, his heart in his mouth.
He fell to his knees as he came upon his beloved, naked, blindfolded, gagged and tied to the bed by his hands and feet, sobbing quietly. He untied the small man as gently as he could, tears trickling down his face as he did so.
Prince Hammand fought him, thinking it was one of the guards. His voice, hoarse and weak, was painful to Asgar’s ears as he whispered that it was him and he was safe now. Hammand sobbed even harder, sounding like his throat had been ripped apart.
Asgar knew exactly what had happened here. The room smelled of sex and Hammand’s cock lay nestled in the light spattering of damp hair on his groin, obviously spent. The queen, his own mother, had this done to him, right here in her own chambers.
I should have known. I should have known she would do something like this. How could she sacrifice her son for her own ends? What kind of mother is she? What kind of person am I? I should never have kept all this from Hammand … all the secrets I’ve been keeping… and for what?
Try as he might, Asgar could not think of a law against this. If they reported what had transpired, not that he knew who he could go to that would stand against the Queen, he didn’t think anyone would believe them. Hammand had had sex and the punishment would be swift. They would probably assume the prince was lying to cover his own indiscretion. There was no point in trying to get justice.
He could not even fight to defend his beloved’s honor. What kind of worthless life was this where you could not protect your own?
“Oh Ham.” He wept, wrapping Hammand in the gold sheet as soon as he had calmed down enough. Asgar cradled the prince in his arms and walked out of the Queen’s chambers. He buried his face in Hammand’s neck as the small man grasped his own neck tightly, whimpering his name.
There was palpable tension in the air. Everyone stared as they went past but at the same time acted like they saw nothing—as usual. Asgar raged within himself, feeling like he had failed Hammand. He did not have the ability to right this wrong. He felt helpless. Worthless.
What did he think he could give Hammand that would be worth the sacrifice of leaving his beautiful life to be with him? He could not even protect him. It was no use.
He was the cause of this… this punishment that the Queen had put Hammand through. If he had been there, none of this would have happened to his beloved. Prince Hammand would have remained a virgin until his wedding day as it should have been.
* * * *
Asgar entered the prince’s chambers to find that the maidens had already run a bath. They rushed out as soon as he appeared, avoiding eye contact and not saying a word but both crying openly. Did everyone know but him? How had this happened?
He set the prince in the bath and his own clothes joined the sheet he had wrapped Hammand in on the floor. He settled into the bath and washed his beloved gently, rocking him as he did so, holding his hands tight to keep him from tearing at his own skin.
“Asgar…” Hammand whimpered sadly. On and on. Hammand’s voice was so hoarse it broke Asgar’s heart.
“I’m here my love. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I should have been here,” Asgar repeated, over and over, his despair almost surpassing the little prince’s. “I didn’t know… I didn’t know.”
This puzzled Hammand. His mother had tricked them both. He knew Asgar would have been there for him if he had known. So why was he saying this? He tried to focus on Asgar’s face through his teary eyes. “W-what do you mean?”
“My mother?” Hammand’s heart ached with… something like dread. To hear his mothers complicity in this out loud was like a knife in his stomach. “What… what are you saying?”
“She told me…” Asgar squeezed his eyes shut, suddenly feeling faint. “Oh Ham, I wanted you to know for sure that it was me… that you could love… want only me. Your mother said she would talk to you about it… she said she would introduce you to someone so you could give it a try. I only wanted you to have a choice… to be sure. The way I am sure you are my love above everyone else.”
Prince Hammand just stared at him. The look on his face, the disbelief, the dismay in the face of betrayal was something that Asgar knew would remain with him for the rest of his life.
Hammand clambered out of the bath without a word. Tears flowed from Asgar’s eyes as he fought to keep from collapsing.
The prince walked quietly out of his bedchamber into the outer room, his mind racing to make sense of what he had just heard. Water dripped everywhere as he went, still naked and shivering visibly. He was weak and unsteady on his feet and his head pounded. He slumped against the closest wall.
“Please forgive me, I should have been here,” Asgar pleaded urgently as he followed behind him. He stopped to grab a large thick robe to cover him with, not thinking of his own nakedness.
Asgar wrapped the robe around Hammand, but the young prince pulled away when he tried to give him a hug, his small body stiff with tension. His Hammand seemed to have gone into shock again. His eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing. This was all because of Asgar’s stupidity and deception.
He was on his knees in seconds, cradling Hammand’s hands in his large ones. The small man pulled his hands away as if he’d been burned. He stared at Asgar like he didn’t know him, his beautiful eyes swollen and bloodshot.
“What makes you think I had no choice? What do you think my maidens are there for? We might not be allowed to do anything but they are there to remind us that we are men! Do you think I am such a fool? I may be innocent but I know my reaction to them is different from that of my brothers!” he raged. “All these years the maidens have been half-naked around me when I bathed and I have never had an inclination towards them. Not once. Not for any of them. Except you. I knew it was only you. And you do this… you do this to me?”
“I did not, Ham.” Asgar tried to take the prince’s hands again, but this time the Prince shoved him away. Prince Hammand pushed himself off from the wall, forcefully wiping his tears away.
“How can you say you love me when you did this? You, who I wanted to—”
“Ham…” The big man did not know what to say. He had kept secrets from his beloved, and for that he deserved no mercy. He should never have done that, no matter how bad the situation was. It was much worse now and it was his fault.
“Do not touch me!” Hammand yelled. Asgar stiffened at the tone of his voice. His beloved was acting like an imperial prince now—an angry imperial prince.
Guards came scrambling out of nowhere, taking position around Hammand, poised to attack. It was not surprising that they were all about Asgar’s height. The better to tackle him with if need be, Asgar thought. That must have been another of the Queen’s great ideas.
Asgar’s hands immediately dropped to his sides and he sadly took his position, head down, mouth shut, leaning back on his heels. He became what he was. The reason for all this trouble. What he had always been.
“Take him away. To the dungeons!” Prince Hammand yelled as loud as his hoarse voice would let him. His turmoil clouded his mind completely. Asgar’s betrayal was the final blow. He felt like even death would not quench the pain that was tearing through him.
“I will have you drawn and quartered so you can feel what I feel right now knowing you agreed for this to be done to me!”
Much to his surprise, Asgar did not even protest, he just hung his head sadly and seemingly accepted his fate without a fight. This confused and frightened the prince more than anything.
The guards dragged Asgar away without finesse, almost glad at a chance to rough handle the big man who had been enjoying special treatment under their noses for so long.
But as the guards took him further away with each step, it became harder and harder for Prince Hammand to breathe. His chest felt like is was going to explode. He was faint and sick and angry and brokenhearted all at the same time. He could not have Asgar killed, dear Isis, that would be like killing himself.
“Wait!” They were out of sight, but his adviser, Shetna who until now he had not noticed was in his presence, ran after them, yelling his order out.
“Bring him back!” the prince called out, tears streaming down his beautiful face.
Asgar was dragged back, still looking like a defeated slave. Hammand ached at the sight of him that way but struggled to remove his focus from that and place it on his anger.
“I will not kill you. After all, you only did what was expected of you. I have something for you.”
He went into his inner bedchamber for a minute, coming back with a strange looking scroll in his hand. “You are a free man.” Hammand stated, flinging the sealed rolled gold sheet to Asgar, who caught it deftly. “This is your freedom. Just take it and go… you want to be free of me. Now you are free.”
“This?” Asgar stared at him in disbelief and pain. He stared in horror at the symbol of his freedom in his shaking hand. His world was falling apart completely. He had thought the assault on Hammand was the worst thing that could ever happen, but this…
He might as well be dead.
“No… no,” his voice was a whisper of shock, painful to Hammand’s ears for he refused to believe there was love there anymore. That there ever was.
Shetna stepped forward from his hiding place a tad hesitantly. He knew to stay out of this but he had to say something. Asgar, friend or not, had cost a lot of money. His service to his prince came first after all. “My prince…”
“Stay out of this!” Prince Hammand screamed at the adviser, turning back to Asgar in an instant. “Take the scroll and go. No one owns you now… you owe me nothing.”
“No…” Asgar moved towards Hammand swiftly, dropping to his knees before him and grabbing hold of his small thighs. “No my love, I am yours. Don’t do this. I do not want to be free of you. Ever. I love you; you are my life. No my prince, please…”
“Let go of me Asgar. You are no longer my slave. You owe me nothing. Just go.” But Asgar still held on tight. Hammand did not even bother to struggle, he just signaled for the guards to pull Asgar away.
The big man’s face was a mass of pain and sorrow and defeat as he allowed himself to be pulled off. He held on to the guards instead and they looked to their prince in puzzlement. “Then let me die, let them take me to the dungeons and kill me like you wanted first. I prefer that to being free, if that would keep me away from you.”
“You are mad!” Shetna gasped out loud, covering his mouth immediately. He stepped further back so he was well out of Prince Hammand’s sight.
Asgar smiled painfully at the adviser, his face a haze of defeat. “I have nothing else, no one else. There is nothing to live for. At least with this, I will have died for him.”
Hammand was crying silently, his heart wrenching as he heard the words, longing for Asgar so much but so dejected at everything. “Let him go,” he ordered firmly, watching the guards step far back as he moved to where Asgar stood for emphasis.
“You are free Asgar. You will not die for me. Go and find your memories, that’s all you want in the end isn’t it? No one is going to kill you here.”
He made to turn away but Asgar grabbed him again, back kneeling at his feet, face buried in his thighs. More tears came. He couldn’t help it, not with Asgar so close.
“Leave me be.”
“No… I love you. I can never be free of you.”
“You do not love me…”
“Yes I do… I was meant to be here my love. I was tricked… why would I want you to go through it all tied up? Why would I want that? I wanted you to experience it, I won’t deny that my love. But even then you were to choose if you wanted to do it or not. Why would I ever force you? Why would I want you to be forced to do something you didn’t want? Your mother agreed to mention it to you, ask you to try it out. I was supposed to be here when she spoke to you. To explain my own thoughts about it as well. She didn’t tell me it was today. She left me at the mausoleum… she left me there. I ran all the way here but I was too late… I am so sorry. My life… forgive me…”
“I hate you!” Prince Hammand screamed as Asgar’s words sank into his mind in drips, registering this time. His eyes flit involuntarily to Asgar’s bleeding feet, confirming his words. He began to hit Asgar with all his might, struggling to push him off him. The big man just held him tightly, taking all the anger and pain that came with it.
The prince’s crying was more intense now. Such was the depth of his pain, it was tearing him into pieces and he did not know if he could put himself together after this. “I wanted you to have my virginity! I wanted you to have all of me! Now it’s gone to that strange woman and I have nothing… I have nothing.”
He crumpled into Asgar sobbing painfully, vaguely hearing his love whispering, “It’s not gone, my life. It will still be mine… my love, it’s not gone.”
Hammand just cried and cried.
They did not notice when Shetna quietly signaled for the guards to leave and he followed suit, allowing the lovers heal each other in their own world.
Not long afterwards, Asgar stood up with Hammand in his arms and carried him into the bedchamber. He undressed them both and crawled into the bed. They cried themselves to sleep, wrapped tightly in each other’s arms.
* * * *
Asgar gave Hammand a thorough bath the next morning, as if trying to wash away what had happened to the small man in his absence. He was ashamed of himself for being unable to protect his love; he was angry at himself for not telling his love what had been going on with his mother. His deception had led to this. It was all his fault.
“Oh Asgar. Don’t blame yourself.” Ham whispered. “This is my mother’s doing not yours.” But he was crying too. They held each other tight, soothing with words and touches. They ended up spending a long time in the bath crying.
“I will never let anyone harm you again. I will die before I let that happen again.” Asgar swore, pressing Hammand’s tiny right palm to his beating heart. “I swear my love. My life is yours…”
Hammand interrupted him. “Asgar, do not say such things.”
“No Ham. Listen to me. This is serious.” He stared at the small man and pressed his palm harder against his chest. “I pledge my life to you today. I will have nothing to live for if I lose you. I will go with you anywhere and everywhere, even in death I will go with you.”
The prince stared at him. “Can I love you any more than I do now?” he whispered with tear-blinded eyes. His other hand reached to Asgar’s on his chest and he squeezed it. “My life is yours too. To anywhere and everywhere.”
Asgar nodded solemnly, his heart warming at the promise.
They dressed but remained indoors, in bed, talking.
“You know we have to go?” Hammand whispered. “We have to leave this place.”
The big man took a deep breath. “Ham…”
“Mother will not stop… I cannot go through any more of—”
“I know my love. We will go as soon as the festival is over. I should have everything set up by then. It will be the best time to go, with everyone recovering from the festival and so many foreigners on their way home. By the time everything settles we will be long gone.”
“And I can be yours at last.”
* * * *
Queen Shila was thoughtful as her maidens prepared her for the day. It always took forever with the makeup and elaborate hair. But she was used to it and loved its effect.
As the days had gone past she had become more and more unsure what she had achieved by forcing Hammand to have sex with a woman. So far, nothing seemed to have changed. At all. Instead she began to feel as if everyone was judging her. After spending weeks having every possible suspect flogged and even coming close to beheading one, she had decided that it may just be in her mind. Her guilty mind.
Hammand on the other hand just stayed away from her. He avoided anywhere she frequented and if she turned up somewhere unexpectedly, he left at once without preamble. He had not said a word to her since that fateful day. Even her twin daughters were angry with her though she knew they had no idea what had transpired. Her son was too noble to deprive them of their innocence.
He was not like her.
She shrugged that thought away.
She had herself to blame. She knew that. But he was still going to marry the princess of Renakan, whether he was angry with her or not. It was only sex after all.
With the festival approaching fast, she had no time to focus on him or that slave of his. The festival needed to be dealt with and it angered her that she had to be distracted from something so important by that trivial inconsequential bastard.
She would show him. When the time came.
The festival for Isis was not to be taken lightly. It was held every ten years in the most powerful region other than the Goren capital. Renadi was in that position and she intended to keep it that way at all costs. Her King sided her in that, ill as he was.
Nothing was to be spared to impress the entire monarchy. They needed to make their mark so the people would never forget their wealth and generosity.
“We are finished my queen.” She heard one of her handmaidens murmur, and it brought her back to the present. She lifted her hand without thought to take the small gold mirror being handed to her.
* * * *
Shetna was having a meal with his friends, Denar and Tullus, and telling them of his encounter with Queen Shila. The fact that she also saw some familiarity in Asgar was such a bad thing.
Shetna talked about his searching of the slave markets and how it appears Asgar might have been taken from the far away capital, which would explain why it had been so difficult to trace his background. It also raised more questions, such as if he came from so far away, why was he familiar to their royals here? There had been no word of any missing royals or dignitaries, so he could not have been that important.
“You might need to visit the capital, just to be sure. It would be better to find his family and give him back rather than get caught with him. Safer way to go,” Tullus said.
“I agree,” Shetna said. The other men nodded and mumbled their agreement.
Mustafa stepped in, earning a shout from the men. “Where have you been?”
He laughed heartily and gave his apologies as he settled beside them, immediately grabbing a plate to serve himself from the usual rich array Shetna’s wife always served.
“What about the rice Musty? It has been quite a while now. The queen is threatening to take the business from you. Remember my prince refuses to speak to his mother lately so if that happens I cannot ask him to appeal on your behalf.”
Mustafa nodded profusely unable to speak as he stuffed his face. The other men laughed as he swallowed noisily. “Have no fear Shetna.” He muttered indelicately, rice flying in different directions from his mouth. The shipment was a bit delayed but, thank Isis, it has arrived safely and is being moved to the palace grounds as we speak. My apologies for the delay. I have been torn left and right, busy with the festival you see. It is such an honor for us so we have to surpass all of Goren!”
A maiden came into the room quietly and knelt by Shetna, whispering a message. A slave waited outside to speak to him.
After getting a description, he smiled. “Tell him to come in and join us. Tullus and Denar are here.” She left after executing a small bow.
Both men looked up from their food curiously. “It’s Asgar I think,” Shetna explained. They nodded heartily and went back to eating.
The maiden returned and waited respectfully for the conversation to end and then whispered again. The man would not come in. He preferred to stand at the door. She did not know why.
Shetna excused himself and stood up.
Mustafa watched as he left, munching heartily. He wiped his mouth before he spoke. “Who is this new friend Asgar? Why have I not met him before?”
“Ah, we met him moons ago—a very impressive slave.”
“Slave? Are we peasants now?” Mustafa asked his friends.
“Believe me,” Tullus muttered solemnly. “He is no slave. He is better spoken than anyone I have ever met, that includes you and I. And I have attended court so that is saying something. A very interesting man. Impressive looking too.”
Denar shot him a look that said stop right there.
Tullus shot one right back, adding. “What? I’m being honest. I certainly wouldn’t let him near my women. You should see him.”
“Really?” Mustafa queried, ignoring his food for a minute. “I should meet this slave.”
“You will soon enough... if that’s him,” Denar added in wry amusement. Then he laughed and the others joined in as they resumed their meal.
As suspected, it was Asgar stood at the door. He nodded as Shetna appeared. They exchanged pleasantries.
“My apologies for not coming in. I am in a rush and no one but the prince knows I am away from him. We are being very careful. You do understand?”
“Of course I do. That is no problem at all. I will extend your apologies to Denar and Tullus.” Asgar nodded at this. “So… what brings you here?”
Asgar gave him Prince Hammand’s message.
They had no idea how close they had come to discovering Asgar’s true identity. If Mustafa had only gotten a chance to see his face…
* * * *
The beautiful woman entered her enormous bedchamber. She was a tall and graceful, carrying her long limbs with an ease revered by many. Yet her beauty was marred by an ever-present sorrow.
She crumpled onto the bed. Staring blankly at nothing, she waved at her handmaidens, dismissing them. Their shoulders slumped sadly at their mistress’s sorrow but they did her bidding and slunk out of the room to wait in the main chamber as usual.
No one knew where he was. How could this have happened? Who would dare do this? Did they not know who he was? Or was that the plan?
Her thoughts ran rampant as they had every night since he had disappeared. She wished she had sent out a search party for him that first night. She had let their stupid disagreement get the better of her and allowed the criminals a very good head start.
What was she to do? What would she tell the world?
All the numerous meetings with different seers had been to no avail. There was no sign of him anywhere. Her beloved. She had no idea what to believe any more.
She recalled the meeting with the seers of the god Xis who she did not worship. That had been her last resort. She had awaited their report with dread as with hope. They said he was alive somewhere, but his presence was shaky and somewhat faint, like there was something very wrong.
But it ended there. They had no idea where he was, not even the area. All they knew was that he was within Goren. With so many regions, what good did that do? How long could they search before his disappearance was known?
Staring around her at all the beauty and splendor, bed made of gold, as were her chairs and sun seats. Her wardrobe was of the best silks and laces. Slaves and servants of exotic blood of all kinds sat at her beck and call. All of this and for what? They were all worthless in her eyes now. She hated the sight of everything these days. Nothing could quench the ache in her heart.
She grabbed the delicately spun gold glass of freshly squeezed mang juice and flung it against the wall. It hit with a quiet thud due to the padding but broke anyway, shattering and spilling its red liquid slowly down the wall.
Shaking, she curled up into her pillow and let the tears pour. Her sorrow pierced the walls to the ears of her maidens as it had done every night for so long now. They knew now to let her be no matter how loudly she cried.
* * * *
Asgar finally told Prince Hammand everything he had held back from him: the meetings with the queen, her attempt to poison him. Even about the real reason behind the tests he had been having most of his lifetime.
“Do not be vexed with Mariam. She only wants to protect you and yours. Us.” Asgar knelt before the solemn prince who was making a point of looking down at his wringing hands.
He pulled the hands apart gently and kissed each palm. “Look at me my love.”
The prince took a breath and looked up, tears flowing down his cheeks. Asgar’s heart sank.
“I’m not vexed with Mariam. It even makes sense that it was such a big thing, considering the punishment.” He sighed and pressed his face into the palm that came up to stroke his cheek. “It’s just… I hate this place now… it feels… it no longer feels like a part of me. I cannot express what I__”
“My love…”Asgar understood what he meant. He was saddened that he had caused this for his prince. To lose his home, whether in heart or in sight was a terrible thing.
“I cannot be here any longer. I feel unsafe when you are not near. I am no longer myself in this place.”
“I know my love. We are almost ready. You will be away from here soon.”
“Can we not go now?” Hammand pleaded. He began to sob in distress. Asgar lifted him into his arms and stood up. Rocking him gently, he paced to the window. It is raining heavily outside but despite this he could see in the distance that people were still bustling about in the dark streets, preparing for the festival.
“It is not long now my love. We will be gone soon.” He soothed.
The prince felt so fragile in his arms. He had lost considerable weight since the rape, despite all Asgar’s efforts to make him eat. It was his mind that suffered now. The sooner they left they sooner his love could heal.
* * * *
The woman awoke with a start, finding herself crying still. It seemed she had hardly slept at all. She kept getting flashes of him lying in a gutter somewhere, broken, bloody, dead. Seeing him being beaten to a pulp and dragged away, all on his own, alone somewhere strange, suffering. No. No. No.
Looking around her she realized that it was still nighttime. Late into it. She was weak from grief, further saddened that the night terrors had come back. Looks like nothing the Xis seers had done had worked.
Calling out for her maidens, she sang her usual mantra to herself.
Her beloved was alive. He was safe. He would return to her.
Her maidens knelt at her bedside, telling her of what she would be doing the next day. Her bath was made ready, it was the only thing that helped to soothe her at times like this. She sighed as she rose unsteadily. She would need that bath to revive her spirits.
Five maidens led her to the bath, stopping to help her out of her clothes. She stepped in delicately, sighing at the scalding water that was just what she needed. Leaning back onto the cushioned headrest, she closed her eyes and nodded subtly.
The maidens took their cue to begin to bathe her. They took their time so she could relax, all five humming her favorite song as they worked. She started to hum along but stopped as her mind wandered to her last meeting with the Xis seers.
She had stepped into the cave, almost lightheaded with hope as she saw the enormous Xis idol at the center of the room. It towered over everything and looked quite menacing. She dared hope that the menace equaled power. Power to return her beloved to her. She would even be grateful if she was just told where to find him.
There were a lot of women, old in comparison to the men. The cave was crowded and extremely hot, the stench of sweaty unwashed bodies making her hold her breath to keep from retching. There was no preamble. The old women did not even act like they knew who she was, they just got right to the task. Ten crones stood around the logs in front of the idol. A young man reached slowly for her hand and drew her into their midst, indicating that she kneel.
She did as she was bid.
They began. They seemed to already know of her dreaded loss. She hoped they did.
At the first red billow of fire from the cauldron on the logs, they began to moan and talk in strange tongues. “The nights will be quiet from now,” on they moaned, “no more tears, no more fears unfolding as the shadows cross through the skies.”
Tears flowed from her as the cauldron gurgled.
They moaned for hours more calling fervently for the fire of Xis. She found herself praying along to what she knew not.
Then came the second billow of fire, even more resplendent than the first. “Yes, he is there,” they moaned. “He is… somewhere… but he is beyond our sight. Far, near, nowhere.”
“Is he dead? Just tell me,” she begged, “that I may find peace.”
“He is elsewhere,” they moaned, giving her no direct answer.
She held herself together enough to manage her way out of there with the help of her people. But at the closing of the heavy door behind them, she crumpled, having to be carried bodily away from the cave.
* * * *
Asgar and Prince Hammand were knee deep in preparations now. They took advantage of everyone’s concentration on the coming festival to plan their elopement.
Hammand got money from the coffers with ease. They secretly purchased an old carriage which Asgar hid behind an abandoned shrine way up in the hills, where no one ever cared to go. The carriage was ugly and broken but Asgar repaired it painstakingly.
They put aside dried foods and medicines, and gathered together drab but practical clothes so they could blend into the peasantry. It pleased Asgar to watch his prince make plans. It took his mind off what had happened. Prince Hammand got more excited with each passing day. Asgar had his reservations about how the little man would manage without luxury, so watching his determination and listening to all his ideas helped to ease his fears.
Hammand wanted to do this with all his heart so Asgar worked hard to ensure they could maintain some form of goodness for some time before reality set in. He prayed to the gods every day that he would be able to find some tangible work so they would be able to settle far away from here in good time.
Asgar’s hard work paid off when he brought Hammand to inspect the finished carriage. It looked great, he knew that, but he needed validation from his beloved before he felt comfortable pulling him away from his home.
It was larger than usual, thanks to days he had spent redesigning and reinforcing the body of the enclosed carriage. The hard work had made his hands bleed but he had powered through it, his mind fixed on their goal of leaving with the festival crowd to escape detection. The size and beauty of the carriage would not stand out amongst that of the rich revelers and courtiers. They could travel fast and far until they could lose themselves in the crowds of a distant, affluent city.
He had built the body to overlap the edge of the chassis at the rear of the carriage, so they could have a place to relieve themselves, most especially in the heat of the elopement when searches would surely have started and they could not be seen outside unnecessarily.
He watched in fascination as Hammand stared at the box with a hole that he had framed over the opening, immediately knowing what it was for, seeing that he sat on it and giggled.
He had made a system for water collection and storage, funneling rainwater from small trenches in the roof to a curved metal tank hidden in the underbelly of the carriage. Even the large wheels were reinforced, three inches of steel in five sets molded around each other tightly and bonded as one. Powerful and unbreakable. Like their love, Asgar liked to think.
The rest of the carriage was subtle yet luxurious. No bright colors that would attract attention or fancy adornments that would scream money. Thick heavy curtains lined the large windows to keep warmth in and prying eyes out. The bed was deceptively thick and soft… and bouncy, as Hammand discovered. It filled most of the carriage but Asgar didn’t think anything mattered more.
“I love it!” Hammand cried in delight, jumping on Asgar. “Oh Asgar, it is so beautiful! It is perfect!”
“I am pleased that you like it.” Asgar laughed as the carriage shook with his slight stagger to regain his balance after catching Hammand in his arms.
“Not like. Love.” The small prince clarified with twinkling eyes, rubbing their noses as he loved to do. “Not as much as I love you though.”
They stared at each other tenderly for a while, emotions almost tangible in the air around them. “I love you too, my prince.”
They kissed slowly, their passion building. Asgar sank onto the bed so the little prince straddled him, which maybe was not such a good idea as their fast-hardening clothed cocks rubbed together, making their kissing more desperate.
Asgar had been hesitant to touch Hammand after that horrible night when they almost lost each other. Hammand had had to remind him that he needed his touch to overshadow the memories of that night. Again and again.
Their need had escalated even further since. Asgar used this to his advantage every other day to get the little man to eat properly. They were at each other all the time so much that Hammand had taken to wearing bulky clothes so his erection did not show when they were out. Asgar, much to Hammand’s chagrin, had some expert way of tucking his out of sight, but then again his love’s cock was way bigger than his in every respect.
“It’s all coming together Asgar…” Hammand gasped as they rocked their hips together. Asgar cupped his bottom with a large hand and took over the rocking expertly as he ground Hammand against him.
“Ohh… this will be our home soon…” Hammand’s back arched as large warm fingers slid into his silk trousers, kneading his bottom. Asgar attacked his neck with a teasing tongue, nipping as well.
“Yes, my prince…”
“Asgar…” Prince Hammand sighed in lazy pleasure. “Soon I can be free to love you like I long to.” His small hands wound themselves tighter round Asgar’s neck, fingers trailing at his nape.
Asgar’s hands diverted to the front, pulling the silk trousers off as he went and letting the cock restrained within it free and into his waiting palm.
His left hand entwined with Hammand’s right and there were no words after that.
TO BE CONTINUED…