The Captive Heart


Acrid smoke from lanterns, torches, and fireplaces filled the great hall of Fairdale Castle, stinging the eyes and masking all in a faintly murky haze. The wood beamed ceiling, far above the crowd gathered in the large stone hall, was cloaked in darkness--the darkness a mixture of the thickness of the smoke and the weakness of the light provided. Little breeze stirred the wall tapestries or cleansed the air; the bitter chill of winter was already pervasive causing most of the window portals high above to be shut against its bite.

The laughter, revelry, and music that filled the air was underlain with an edge of desperation. The merrymakers were working hard to enjoy themselves. Today was supposed to be a day of celebration: twenty-five years earlier Prince William Andrew Philip Bodie had been born. Now his birthday was a holiday for the whole kingdom.

The bored prince scanned the room and decided that everyone seemed to be enjoying his birthday party--except for the guest of honor. 'Not really surprised, didn't want this party to begin with.' But it was his first birthday after his father's death several months before, and even though he'd yet to be crowned king--a year's wait was required between the death of the old monarch and the crowning of the new in this kingdom--his birthday was now considered a holiday for celebration. Unfortunately, the last thing he desired was to celebrate. He missed his father; he was finding the running of the kingdom alternated between moments of intense apprehension and tedious routine; and, on top of it all, he was randy. He wished only for the night to end, but he knew that it would be hours yet before he could reasonably leave. At least at the celebrations of his father's birthday he could slip out after a few hours; now--soon to be king, and the guest of honor--he would have to remain far into the night.

He didn't begrudge his people a celebration--times were tense and they needed the break--however, he wished that he didn't have to participate. He'd liked parties before, but now that he ruled the kingdom he was treated with diffidence and respect, no longer allowed to be a part of the celebration. 'Galas are just no damn fun anymore,' he whined to himself.

Looking up from his contemplation of the dregs of his wine, he saw Colin Murphy, one of his few close friends, enter. Following him was a man cloaked in brown wool from head to toe, the hood pulled up so that none of his hair was visible, and his head and shoulders were slightly stooped so that it also concealed his face. The covered man seemed to float across the room with a unique smoothness and grace all his own. Prince Bodie--as he'd decreed himself to be called, he absolutely hated William and refused to answer to that a hundred times a day--felt a flare of interest. 'Perhaps the rest of the night won't be so boring after all.'

Murphy made directly for the prince, and several of the nearby revelers paused to see what was happening. Stopping before the Prince, Murphy gave a cursory bow and addressed his friend.

"I bet you thought I'd forgotten your party and your present?"

Bodie quirked his slightly bent eyebrow but he said nothing, only continued to look at the two new party guests. From Murphy's smug expression he could tell that his friend was most pleased with himself. The Prince finally spoke, "Nah, I knew you wouldn't forget, but was wondering what you had in mind?"

"Well, I went to the Cair Beau markets a few days ago. I'd had a man on the look out for a horse to replace the one you lost in that skirmish last year, and he'd sent word that he'd found one. He had, by the way, but as he's a bit on the young side--the horse, not the man--I decided to wait and give him to you for your coronation this spring. Especially as I found another present that I thought would please you more. As I was passing the slave auction, I saw this green-eyed enchanter coming up for bids."

At that point Murphy reached up and pulled the cloak off the other man, revealing him in all his splendor. The slave wore only a loin cloth to conceal his groin and the wrist and neck base metal bands that marked him as a slave. He was tall, just a tad bit shorter than the prince; his muscles were firm and well developed, showing that he was used to physical labor; his hair fell over his shoulders in soft, brown waves, red glints catching the light every now and then. Murmurings of appreciation were heard in the ranks of those nearby as the young man's body was placed on display.

Murphy instructed, "Turn around and show your new master his present." The directions were neither harsh, nor condescending, merely a simple order.

As the young man turned slowly, Murphy recounted his history, "He's in his mid-twenties, in very good health, and has done much traveling. His step-father gambled heavily and then was killed in a fight over his losses. His sister was to be sold in the slave auction to pay the debts--quite fetching she is, there were many upset when she was removed--and he returned barely in time to take her place. I had quite a battle on my hands to purchase him. Several brothels were bidding, along with a few other rich patrons." The young man finished his turn and stopped. Never once had his head lifted; his long hair falling to conceal his face, he remained staring at the floor. Murphy looked him up and down before continuing.

"You can see why he'd be in such demand. Slaves are rarely in such fine condition. Look up," Murphy's hand came under the young man's chin and gently guided it up so that his hair fell away, exposing his features. Those to the front--including the Prince--drew in a sharp breath. With the exception of a faded scar on his cheek, the young man was incredibly handsome in an exotic way. The eyes, now revealed, were indeed a deep, rich green; the features of the face, fine and delicate; the skin smooth and unmarred. Murphy said, "Open your mouth and show your teeth." Instead of the rotten and decayed ones of the normal peasant, two fine gleaming rows of white pearls shown brightly, and those close enough could smell the fresh breath that indicated a still healthy mouth and constitution. Stroking each cheek gently before releasing the face, Murphy continued.

"I had quite a battle, and even a few threats were made, but when I informed them that I was buying him as a present for the future king of Lodon, all argument was dropped. Knowing you does have some uses, Bodie." Murphy grinned at his friend, "So do you like your gift?"

The Prince stood and walked up to the young man, ignoring all those around him. He ran his hand down one side of the muscular frame and up the other, then moved and grasped the young man's arse--it was firm and muscled. He lifted the flap of the loin cloth and viewed the leather pouch that concealed the obviously well developed genitals. A sudden thought had him worried.

"He's not been cut--has he?" he turned his head over his shoulder to look at Murphy and inquire.

"No. The dealer asked if I wanted him done, and I said no. I knew that you preferred men whole."

"Damn right," anger touched the Prince's voice. "It's going to be one of my first acts as king to stop the castration of slaves. Won't stop it for rapists and murders, but just because a man is down on his luck...." At Murphy's raised eyebrow he stopped; it was an old argument, after all, and they'd debated it numerous times before. Still, he couldn't resist one final comment, "I don't buy the argument that it makes them tamer, and I'll not have it while I'm king."

His irritation was met with a smile. "I'm not arguing. It's not me you'll have to convince," Murphy was quick to point out.

Bodie sighed. Murph was right; there would be resistance to the elimination of castration of slaves, but he was determined.

"Anyway, I know you well enough that I refused to allow him to be touched."

"Good," Bodie nodded at Murphy and then addressed the slave as he stroked his back, thighs and buttocks. "What's your name, boy?"

The slave neither looked at him, nor spoke. In fact, for all the reaction he gave, it was as if he weren't there, only the empty shell of a body. Just as puzzlement was beginning to give way to annoyance, Murphy replied.

"His name is Ray. The dealer knew of none other. And his only flaw--if you can call it that--is that he doesn't speak."

"Why? Has his tongue been cut out, or was he born that way?"

"I don't know. The dealer swore that he came to him that way, and he did him no harm. I believed him. What profit would it do him to harm the boy?"

Bodie had turned to address his friend and out of the corner of his eye noticed Ray flinch. Turning swiftly to see what had caused the reaction in the until now unemotional young man, he saw that when he'd stepped away from the slave, many of those in the crowd around him had begun to touch, stroke, and pinch his body. As one drunken reveler squeezed the genitals in their leather pouch, Prince Bodie experienced a wave of possessive anger. He shoved several out of the way, and the man who was touching Ray's private parts he knocked flat with one punch.

Anger laced his raised voice as he cried, "No one touches Ray but me. Is that clear?" He glared at those around them and was pleased to see the crowd back off in surprised fear. The Prince was noted for his calm--some even said cold--detached disposition; his anger was rare and fearsome when roused. Suddenly only he, Murphy, and the slave remained at the head of the table; even the unconscious man had been dragged away by his friends to keep him from the further wrath of the Prince.

Bodie grasped the young man's upper arm and pulled him back to the throne, "You may sit here at my feet, Ray." The young man sat down, bringing his knees to his chest and placing his head down on them.

"Well, I see most of the food is gone," Murphy observed. "I don't supposed you saved me some? We rode straight here from Cair Beau and didn't stop to refresh. Wanted to make your birthday feast."

The Prince clapped his hands and a servant rushed up. "Sire?"

"Food for Lord Murphy." Bodie was about to go back to his discussion with Murphy when he felt a nudge at his leg. The young man had shifted his weight, and his shoulder had touched the Prince's leg, reminding him that Murph wasn't the only one who had done without food. "Mavis!" The servant wench turned back to see what more he wanted. "Bring enough for two very hungry travelers." She nodded and left. The young slave's weight shifted again so that he was no longer touching the Prince.

As Bodie began to chat with Murphy about all that had occurred since their last meeting several weeks before, he became aware of Ray's shift away, and his hand gently reached down and encouraged the slave to move back so that he was leaning up against his leg. As the Prince and Lord talked, Bodie idly petted and stroked the young man. Food soon arrived and Murphy dug in.

Feeling the body that had relaxed against him stiffen somewhat after a couple of minutes while Murphy ate, Prince Bodie would have sworn that the young man was irritated. 'Ah well, probably hungry.' The Prince was amused and surprised at how well the mute man used his body to communicate. Interrupting his conversation with Murphy, he addressed the man seated on the floor.

"Come on, sunshine, help yourself to some food. Eat all you want; there's plenty." Ray rose swiftly, filled a plate and poured himself a tankard of ale, looking back at his new master for directions to where he should sit. Bodie indicated a stool and motioned for him to bring it and sit again by his side. Ray returned and dug into his meal.

Murphy, watching the interaction between the two young men, was a bit surprised. The Prince was normally oblivious to those around him and rarely showed the consideration to servants, much less slaves, that he'd given Ray. Hell, Bodie rarely showed his friends such consideration without being reminded to. And the fact that he seemed to read the silent slave so well was also a surprise--and a bit of an irritation for Murphy, who'd spent two days in the boy's company and hadn't been able to tell a damn thing about him, or what he wanted or needed.

"So, you've never said if I pleased you with your present." Murphy raised an eyebrow and nodded at the eating man. He noticed that Bodie had resumed his stroking of the young man's head, neck and upper back; Ray ignored the Prince.

Bodie looked back down at the slave, a thoughtful expression on his face. "It should solve my treaty problems rather nicely. He's quite a jewel." He allowed his hand to knead the muscles of Ray's neck. "Perhaps I should change his name, call him Emerald for the colour of his eyes." Seeing Ray stop eating and his back stiffen, Bodie chuckled and ran his fingers through the red-brown curls beneath them, tousling them all the more. He teased, "Or maybe I should call him Goldilocks after that rather interesting fable we heard last summer." The back got stiffer and the body beneath him tenser.

"And what role would you play, my friend? The woodsman?" Murphy sparred with Bodie.

"Nah, I'm the Big Bad Wolf." Bodie felt his cock stirring to life. He didn't give a damn what the rest of the party goers did, he wasn't waiting much longer to bed this one. "And I like my present very much, Murph; you're always so thoughtful in your gifts," biting amusement tinted his statement. He continued stroking the tense back and neck, but this time the muscles didn't relax, nor did the slave resume eating.

"Well, well, well, sunshine, quite a temper you possess." His hand moved to Ray's chin and raised it so that their eyes met. The green eyes appeared blank, yet Bodie was sure that a great deal of anger lurked under the bland facade. Blue stared into green for a long time, and finally Bodie sighed. "Relax, Ray, I'm not going to change your name. Now eat." He nodded at the plate in Ray's lap. Green eyes glared for a brief instant before they again blanked and he began to eat anew.

"What more can you tell me of Ray?" Bodie was curious about the slave he would soon take to his bed. "Do I need fear being murdered in my sleep? I think he's got quite a temper under that bland exterior."

"No, you need have no fear. His mother and sister are a bond to guarantee his continued presence and good behavior. He won't do anything to place them in jeopardy, as any misbehavior on his part could be revenged on them. Little is known about him or his family. His mother is a mid-wife, with quite a good reputation, who has been tending to those in River Dale for the last two or three seasons. Before she and his step-father and sister settled there, they had apparently traveled extensively. Mid-wives always being in demand, she didn't have much trouble finding work."

"Is there some problem with her skills--" Bodie broke off as he felt the man below him stiffen again; he sensed anger radiating through every pore, but, before he could react, Murphy denied his suggestion.

"No, not at all," the body beneath Bodie's hands relaxed again as his friend continued, "In fact, she's called out by other mid-wives and even some surgeons, on the difficult births because of her skill. I'm afraid the step-father's to blame for their travels. He was shiftless, a drunkard and gambler; there is some talk that he came from a once well-respected family in Orienta, but brought them to ruin with his ways. He certainly almost brought his step-daughter to ruin, and his step-son is now in slavery."

Seeing the look of irritation on Prince Bodie's face, Murphy shrugged, "Bodie, there are some laws that you're not going to be able to change. Women are property and can be sold to pay the head of the household's debts. As an adult male, Ray didn't have to choose slavery. He did it to save his sister. I doubt that you'll be able to change that attitude in your lifetime. Besides, it's worked out well for you. You wouldn't have Ray otherwise."

"I thank you for him, but that doesn't mean that I have to like the selling of people to pay off other's debts. Oh, well, I won't change it anytime soon." His voice held resignation at the fact, but not acceptance. "So, is that all that you know?"

"The family was quiet and kept their own counsel as to their past. Ray had been seen to visit on a couple of occasions, but what he does or where he goes when not with them is not known. I assume the fact that he's mute is why he was kept from the rest of the town. You know how superstitious the peasants can be about such things."

Bodie's mind had begun to wander, and he looked away from Murphy to gaze at the young slave who had finished eating. "How old is he? He looks no more than a lad."

"Well, his mother claims that he has seen twenty-seven seasons, but it's hard to tell. You know what the lower classes are like, counting much past ten being beyond them oft times. He's certainly in excellent health, but, as you can see, he bears many scars that would seem to indicate a good bit of fighting."

"I imagine, being unable to speak, he'd come in for more than his fair share of tormenting. I'm surprised that he could travel at all and not get locked up as an incompetent," the Prince observed, allowing his gaze to caress the young body. He decided that he could wait no longer to bury himself in its compelling warmth. "You know, my friend, I'm feeling quite fatigued. I think I shall retire for the night." He stood and instructed, "Ray, come with me."

Before Bodie could make his escape, Murphy asked, "How's Mary this evening?"

"Don't know. In her condition I thought it best not to disturb her." The Prince wouldn't meet his friend's eyes.

Colin glared at the Prince in irritation, knowing damn well what those words meant. "And when was the last time you disturbed her?"

Uncomfortable with the answer, Bodie proceeded to use his thumb nail to clean under his other nails, "A day, maybe two--"

"Or three, or four, or a week?" Murphy allowed his irritation to show.

"Damn it, you know why--"

"Yes, and it's not her fault. And she gets lonely. Send Ray to your chambers with one of the servants, and you can join him shortly."

The two men exchanged glares, but Bodie eventually gave in. He'd been feeling guilty about not having visited his wife lately anyway, and it was always easier with Murphy along. Meeting his friend's look, he nodded his understanding. He glanced at Ray, and, seeing him shiver slightly, said, "Give him your cloak back, Murph. He needs it more than you."

Murphy handed his cloak to the Prince who placed it around his new slave's shoulders.

"Jared," he turned and addressed one of his guards who quickly stepped forward with a bow, "Escort my new present to my chambers." Bodie watched as the two men left the room. Seeing the lustful expression on Bodie's face, Murphy grabbed his arm as he started to pass him. "He's untouched as far as men are concerned--at least, as far as I've been able to determine--so go gentle. If you don't, you could kill him."

"Don't worry. I'll take good care of him." Bodie linked arms with Murphy and walked towards the door. "I wouldn't do anything to harm such a nice present. Let's go see Mary. Any later and the dragon that guards her won't let us in."

"It's only because--" Murphy started to speak, but the Prince interrupted.

"I know what it's because, but Nurse can be quite...forthright."

"Can, can't she?" Colin grinned at his friend. He'd faced the Princess' nurse many times himself and had always felt that she'd won the engagements.

As they strolled to Princess Mary's chambers, Murphy found himself wondering if he'd made a mistake with his birthday present. Ray seemed like the perfect solution to his prince's problem, but, still, something about their interaction unsettled him. 'Well, only time will tell, and maybe if Bodie's getting his end away on a regular basis, he'll be in a better mood.' Lord Murphy certainly hoped so; the last few months had not been the most pleasant of their acquaintance.

Their knock on the Princess' door was swiftly answered by her nurse. Nurse Hazel was a small, broad woman, of indeterminate age and indefatigable energy. Her hair was grey, held tight in a bun, her features round and jolly, but her expression wary and determined. Her love and will alone had kept her charge alive many years past what the leeches had predicted.

"Well it's 'bout time, your highness. Princess Mary's been awaiting up for you." She curtsied in greeting.

Glad now that Murphy had pushed him to visit, the Prince was reluctant to admit that he hadn't been planning to. "My apologies," he bowed slightly in appeasement, "But I didn't want to tire her more than necessary and I knew that she would like to see Colin as well as myself. He was a bit delayed on the road...." Bodie shrugged.

Nurse turned to glare at Murphy as she spoke, "Well, you're right about that. She always enjoys Lord Murphy's visits, and it's been a good bit."

Murphy also gave a cursory bow. "Business has kept me detained, and the road was long and hard. Still, we're here now and glad to hear that Mary is still awake."

"I was just about to insist that Princess Mary go on to bed and present her present to the Prince on the morn," Nurse emphasized the 'Princess' as a slight scold to Lord Murphy for his familiarity still, it was obvious that she felt that unless the Prince objected she had no right to speak up--she used the subtly of her words to offer her reproach to both men as she finished, "Only a few minutes, please."

She curtsied and then went to the door of the Princess' bed chamber and announced them, "Prince William (Bodie grimaced and considered flogging, sighing as he discarded the idea as too extreme) and Lord Murphy, your Highness."

Mary's excited voice could be heard in the other room. "Oh, wonderful, Mother Hazel. Let them in." As they entered, she didn't even pause for a breath, "William, Colin, I'm so glad to see you. Father left last week and I've been so bored. I do hope you like your present; I couldn't pick it out myself, of course, but I thought long and hard about what to get you."

The two men smiled at the young princess. She was little more than a girl, with hazy blue eyes, long, dark blond hair, and a slight figure.

Mary started to get out of bed, but her nurse spoke, "No, you don't, Miss Mary. I'll get the Prince's present for you; I know exactly where it is."

"Oh, but, Mother Hazel, I'm feeling quite well--"

"And I want you to stay that way. You've been up more than enough today, missy. No arguments. It's not just yourself now, you know."

The Princess sighed but flopped down on the bed and didn't argue any more, as Hazel handed the Prince her mistress' present.

"William, Colin, come and sit on each side of me," she patted the bed. "I want to see your faces when William opens his present. It's very special."

The box was long, narrow, and quite heavy. Bodie wondered what his wife--he cringed to think of her that way, she was much too young--could have got him. 'Probably a painting or tapestry. She's into that sort of thing.'

As he pried the lid off and pulled the leather wrappings away, he was shocked to discover a sword and scabbard contained within. Pulling it out, he was impressed with its craftsmanship and its light weight.

He smiled at his wife. "It's a beautiful ceremonial sword--"

"Oh, but it's not." At his puzzlement, she explained, "Now's not the time for show and pomp. It's a fighting sword. I know it's light weight; that's why it's so special. There's a man in our kingdom, the greatest craftsman there is, according to my father--we've kept him a secret, by the way--and he has a secret for forging metal that allows him to make weapons that are lighter yet stronger than any others. It takes a lot of heat and a much longer time, but it pays off in the lesser weight and greater strength. Much easier to maneuver, at least all the King's guard claim so. It took a bit of convincing, but my father finally agreed that you should have the very best."

Seeing the shock on her husband's face, she laughed gently and urged, "Stand up and give it a try." The Prince did as she asked and began to move the sword slowly in several standard exercises. Mary said, "See how easily it moves. Wait until tomorrow, and you try it out in practice. You'll see how strong it is. Oh, there is one disadvantage, or so I've been told. It shouldn't bother you though." She grinned at her husband, "According to the Captain of our guard, it takes forever to sharpen the damn thing, but I figured that you could just have your weapons master do all the tedious labor."

"Miss Mary, such language," Nurse's voice scolded.

The Princess just smiled and winked at her husband and his friend. Both men fought not to laugh in return, knowing that they'd be accused of encouraging her misbehavior if they did.

The three chatted for a good bit, and then Bodie excused himself. He was in a hurry to make use of his birthday present--not the sword--and he also wanted to give Colin and Mary time to talk by themselves. Turning to watch them briefly before he exited, he found that it was at times like this that he hated the bloody treaty and all the circumstances that had given rise to it. He left quickly, tired of the whole damn situation and looking forward to the relief that Ray would soon offer.

The Prince hurried to his chamber. It had been his father's, and he had yet to feel comfortable in it, but it was the king's chamber, and thus he had inherited it upon his parent's death. The castle was large and the king's room was a good distance from the grand hall, off an inner courtyard. Bodie went the longer way because it was all indoors and gave him some time to think about the situation he found himself in.

He was looking forward to the sex to come and some relief for his (to him) long abstinence. Only a few months before his father's death, they'd negotiated a treaty with Melgrain, a smaller kingdom making up most of Lodon's northern border. There had been skirmishes between the two domains since many years before his birth, but King Errol, Melgrain's ruler, had only one child--a daughter and with no sons and only a frail girl, there was no one left of his line capable of holding the throne. He'd made overtures to Bodie's father, King Andrew, and peace had been achieved, but there were two conditions. One was that Bodie marry Princess Mary, his daughter, and produce a male heir to rule both lands, and the other was that Prince William would take no other woman to his bed as long as they were wed.

Bodie had protested vigorously. The girl had barely seen seventeen summers and was of a frail constitution, and he, being a sexually active man, did not want to do without sex. King Errol had then allowed that the Prince could take a man to his bed, provided it was not a member of either court who might threaten his daughter's standing. The Prince still hadn't liked the idea, but as he was as fond of his own sex as he was of women, he didn't consider that a insurmountable problem. With trouble brewing in the realms to the south, they needed peace to the north, so he finally acquiesced to the terms of the treaty.

He'd come to rue that day as he'd found that a male bedmate that met his needs was more difficult to find than he had imagined. King Errol was adamant about interpreting the terms of the treaty: it could be no man of standing in the kingdoms, which eliminated all of Bodie's previous male partners. Most of the common whores he'd viewed--regarding their obvious ill health, drug addiction, and poor hygiene--left him repelled. And the specialized ones, who had been bred and trained to be a rich man's play thing, also repulsed him, but in a different way. Their bodies were soft--like a maid's; their manner--submissive and shrinking; and their looks--effeminate; all the antithesis of what the Prince most enjoyed in sex with another man. So, from the day of his marriage ten months before, he'd only had sex with his wife, and his times with her had been less than a dozen. And since her pregnancy was recognized three months earlier, they had not shared a bed.

Reaching the door to his chamber, he entered and looked around for his bed slave. Tonight he would finally find some relief. Ray had built up the fire slightly and was sitting in a chair next to it, his cloak held tightly to keep him warm. Seeing him again, Bodie decided that Murphy--one of his previous partners--had chosen well. The young man was all he could desire in a bed slave. Strong, muscular, well developed body, handsome features, good teeth, enchanting green eyes--and a bit of temper that would no doubt mean some passion in bed. Yes, Ray would do nicely. And he didn't speak, so Bodie wouldn't have to put up with idle chatter. Perfect.

Ray looked up when the Prince entered the room. Bodie gestured him towards the bed. Detecting a bit of hesitation, the Prince reached out a hand, pulled him to his feet and, placing his hand in the small of the slave's back, gently guided him towards the bed as he spoke softly. "It'll hurt a bit at first, but you'll soon get used to it. Don't worry--I'll take care of you, and I know what I'm doing. Not bedded any virgins--that I was aware of anyway--but I've had some practice, and I know how to make sure you don't get damaged." They reached the bed, and Bodie removed the cape from Ray's shoulders.

Pulling a stool forward, he instructed, "Kneel here and then lie face down on the bed. That's right. Now spread your knees a bit wider. Good." Bodie quickly untied and removed the loin cloth that covered Ray's arse. Once the white buttocks had been revealed, he couldn't resist stroking and squeezing them. They were firm, strong, and muscular. He decided there and then that he would make sure that his slave got enough exercise to keep them that way. The soft, fleshy mounds on most young catamites didn't appeal to him at all; Ray was just what he liked.

Unable to resist any longer, he stepped between the slave's legs until his knees butted up against the stool on which Ray knelt. The Prince allowed his hands to wander up the muscular back, and he stroked and kneaded the kneeling man's shoulders. Leaning forward, he rubbed his still clothed cock against the arse stretched out before him. 'So good. So very good.' Knowing he wouldn't last much longer, he pulled away, went to a chest and removed a salve to smooth his entry. Returning swiftly, he stood again between the slave's legs; undoing his trousers, he quickly slid them and his undergarments off. He struggled briefly with his boots, but soon he was naked from the waist down. Carefully, he rubbed the salve on to his cock, knowing that with too much stimulation he'd come before he'd entered that sweet arse. He didn't want to delay fucking Ray one jot longer than necessary. Satisfied with his own preparations, he gathered more of the grease onto two of his fingers and slowly penetrated the anus of the kneeling man.

Feeling the tension in the man beneath him, he spoke again, "Easy, sunshine, don't fight it. If you tense up, it'll hurt more. Relax. Yeah, that's another finger." Bodie used his free hand to stroke the naked back and with his other he scissored his fingers in the constricted opening, trying to take his time, but the lust centered between his legs could wait no longer. "Okay, Ray, this is the worst part. Get ready." He saw the young man's hands grip the bed coverings in preparation, and his face turn away from the Prince in shame; Bodie knew that he was as ready as he could make him. Pulling his fingers out, he swiftly replaced them with his rigid cock and guided it into his slave's body. He'd planned to go slowly, and, at first, as the tight muscles of Ray's anus gripped him, he was able to pause and hold, waiting for him to relax.

"Good, just hang on, the pain will pass soon. Relax. The more relaxed you are the easier this will be," he spoke to ease the man beneath him.

'Damn,' he thought to himself, 'I should have got him drunk. Would have made it easier. Next time, if needs be, ' he vowed. As he felt his slave's muscles finally relax, he was overtaken by a wave of pure lust and he lost all control. Suddenly, the comfort of the man beneath him no longer mattered, and he shoved in all the way and reveled in the feel of the tight passage as it cradled him in its warmth. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he began to fuck the young man. Fortunately for the slave's sake, the Prince was hot for it, and it took less than half a dozen strokes before he was releasing his seed. He collapsed briefly on Ray's back and then stood and withdrew.

Giving the young man a slap on his arse, he said, "Nice. Very nice and sweet. You'll do me quite well. You may stand, clean yourself up, and go to sleep now." Not stopping to see if his instructions were being obeyed, Prince Bodie walked over to the ewer and bowl and cleaned himself. He finished stripping, put on his nightshirt and, extinguishing the candles, he went to bed and was quickly asleep.

Ray stood and waited while the Prince cleaned and dried himself and then proceeded to do likewise. Gathering up his few coverings, he put his loin cloth back on, wrapped the cloak about himself, and, stretching out on the floor near the fire, he settled down for the night.

Waking a few hours later, the Prince realized that he was again hard. Looking around, he spotted Ray huddled over by the fire, shivering slightly. "Get up. I want you again." As the slave rose looking slightly befuddled, Bodie instructed, "Over here. Kneel just like before." Getting up and standing swiftly behind his slave, he salved himself up, shoved some more ointment up Ray's arse and entered him with few preliminaries. This time, having had some initial relief, he took much longer to come and fucked the young slave long and hard. Finally, having satisfied his needs, he stood and cleaned himself again. He started back to bed, but, remembering how Ray had been when he'd awakened, he went to a blanket chest and withdrew two rugs and an animal fur.

"Here," he handed them over to the slave, "Sleep on the skin and use the others to cover up with. That should keep you warm. I'll talk to Marsden, he's my chamber valet, about getting you a trundle bed to sleep on in the morning and some more covers. This room may be the king's chamber but it's damn drafty. Don't know why my father preferred it to some of the others," Bodie grumbled, as much to himself as to the man in the room with him. "Might relocate myself eventually, but that'll have to wait until after the coronation." The Prince climbed into bed and his voice drifted off. "In the mean time we'll have to make sure you stay warm, sunshi...." He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. The young slave settled down in more comfort than he'd known in many weeks.

Prince Bodie had much to do the next day, was frustrated by the lack of contact with his new present and vowed from now on to allow some leisure time in each day's schedule. It was late the following night before he was able to return to his chamber. Ray was asleep in a small bed set close to the fire for warmth. The Prince was pleased to note that Marsden had made some effort to ensure that the room would be warmer and the slave comfortable. He did not want to lose this young slave, and care must be taken. Thoughts of the night before soon brought his half arousal--a state he'd been in almost all day--to full force.

Desiring to fuck the man again, he called out as he stripped, "Wake up, Ray, I want you. Over here. Now." Watching as his slave sat up and grimaced as his arse touched the bed, Bodie decided to alter his plans.

"I see that you're sore. Well, I'd like that sweet arse again, but I reckon we'd better give it a rest," the shoulders that had begun to relax at his statement quickly stiffened as he concluded, "I'll use your mouth instead."

He could sense tension and anger in the body approaching him, but he ignored it. If Ray were going to be his bed slave, then he'd damn well better learn to please his prince, or he'd suffer the consequences. Bodie lay down on the bed and gave instructions.

"We'll do it this way. This way there won't be any pressure on your sore assets--give 'em a rest so that I'll be able to make use of them again. Now kneel over me and take the head into your mouth. That's right.... Ow! Watch those damn teeth, or I'll have them removed." The green-eyed glare that met that comment was quickly masked; the Prince had seen it; but only laughed. Ray didn't know it, but there was no way in hell that Bodie would mar his perfection by physically damaging him in any manner. Still, he hoped that the idle threat would be enough. It appeared to be, because lips quickly covered the teeth, and they didn't nip him again.

The lesson continued, "Take me in deeper. That's right...deeper still," Ray's gag reflex kicked in and he choked. "That's all right. You're doing fine. Takes some getting used to, this." At the look of indignation that crossed Ray's face, Bodie found he knew exactly what the young man was thinking. "I've done it before, mate, so don't give me that look. Bet I can do it better than you. Take it deep and suck and use your free hand to massage the bottom of my cock and my balls. You might be a bit slow, but you'll get the hang of it eventually."

The Prince's condescending attitude apparently irritated the young slave. He found himself taken in deeply and Ray moving swiftly up and down on his cock as he sucked hard. A firm massage to his balls, and Bodie was lost. Shouting as he came, the Prince saw stars. Ray sat back carefully--not forgetting his sorer bits--looking smug. The smug look swiftly returned to bland before Bodie could even be sure that he'd seen it.

"Well, you may never have sucked a man before, but I'd bet that you've had some experience on the receiving end. You have it done to you?" the Prince quizzed his slave. Ray nodded as he got up and returned to his bed. "You learn well, sunshine, you learn well...." Bodie was again fast asleep before he could finish his thought.

The next four weeks proceeded much the same. Ray healed after the first week, and then Bodie used his mouth and arse on a regular basis: two, sometimes three times a day, he'd release his seed. Having been without for such a long interval, his body seemed determined to make up the lost time. And Ray's body drew him like a magnet. Bodie found that he was quickly becoming addicted to sex with the handsome slave.

After two weeks of so much sex--and falling asleep in several council meetings--he vowed to give both himself and his bed slave a day or two's rest. His body--which had obviously not been consulted when the plan was formed--refused to comply. The first day of his vow, the Prince had made it to mid-afternoon; managing to forego his morning 'exercise,' he'd made it through several boring hours with his commanders discussing the unrest to the south. He would have found the discussion more profitable if even one of the six men knew what the hell was going on, but, although activity had been increasing across the borders, no one had been able to determine why. Each man, reluctant to admit his ignorance, had gone on and on about minor, irrelevant details before getting to the point, that being that they didn't have a clue other than the sighting of more troops.

By the middle of the fifth commander's dissertation on his ignorance, the Prince had found his mind drifting to images of his slave and what he'd done to him the night before. His firm, tight arse, his smooth, muscular frame, and his bewitching, green eyes. Rushing the last man through and deciding to avoid an even longer debate about what they should do--when he'd already made his decision--he gave the order to send out trusted men to spy on all the neighboring kingdoms to gather what information they could. He then adjourned the meeting, pleading a headache, and retired to his chamber, only to find, to his increased frustration, that Ray was helping Marsden with castle chores. Bodie had wanted the bed slave to maintain his muscular frame and, in order to keep it from going soft, had ordered Marsden to make sure he got plenty of exercise. The Prince had thought that Ray would protest and was surprised when the slave seemed glad of the exertion.

Bodie thought about going back to his office and doing some work; there was more than enough to do--after all, the whole reason he'd resisted that morning was that he'd vowed to give them both a rest--but his cock was hard, his mind distracted, and the only thing he wanted was Ray's arse. He summoned a servant and sent him to fetch Ray from whatever he was doing, ostensibly to massage his temples because of his headache.

His slave had arrived several minutes later, had taken one look at the Prince sitting by the fire, had grabbed a pillow and dropped to his knees on it. He then freed Bodie's erection and performed a very efficient and thorough sucking until the Prince cried out in satisfaction as he came. Ray tucked him back in, stood up, and left--Bodie supposed it was to return to whatever he'd been interrupted doing. Taking longer to recover, he vowed that tomorrow he'd resist Ray's charms.

The next day when he woke up, he was hard as hell and decided that, if he had any hopes of getting anything done, resistance was futile. He ended up screwing Ray through the mattress, not once, but three times that day. On the third day--after his last two poor performances in self denial--he'd been very determined and had made it until midnight before his body had awakened him from a sound sleep, rock hard and insisting on relief. He figured he'd made it a day--he ignored the fact that he'd taken Ray around three the previous morning--and that was bloody long enough to prove he could control his desires.

It'd been a particularly draining day, and he'd thought that sleeping the night through would have been little problem, so that when he woke fully roused, he was in no mood to deny himself. Bodie grabbed the salve, greased his cock up as he walked over to the trundle bed on which Ray slept, pulled the covers back, and, shifting the sleeping man slightly, entered him and swiftly fucked him until his seed spurted into the tight passage. Rising, half asleep, he staggered back to bed and was soon slumbering soundly, thereby missing the startlement on his slave's face as he reached down and felt the moisture on the sheets. Seed that had not come from his master, but from himself. Shivering--but not from cold--Ray pulled the covers tight around himself, lay down, but did not sleep for many an hour.

Running a kingdom was an enormous amount of work, full of tedium and frustrations. The only relief and escape the Prince was able to find was when he buried himself in his slave's mouth or arse; still, as often as they had sex, Bodie couldn't escape the feeling that something was missing. He just couldn't determine what it was. Perhaps Murphy would return soon, and he'd at least have someone to talk to.

Having had a particularly hard day, Bodie had taken Ray with few preliminaries--barely taking the time to oil himself adequately before he pounded rapidly into the kneeling man. Finishing swiftly, he cleaned himself and fell quickly into slumber, as Ray curled up on his small bed in the corner by the hearth.

Bodie wasn't aware of what had woken him, but something did less than an hour later. Looking over at Ray's bed, he was surprised to find it empty. His slave had had a tiring day as well, if Marsden's reports were anything to go by. Sitting up, he listened carefully and became aware of soft sounds coming from a small curtained alcove. He got up silently, pulling on his robe, to ascertain if it were his slave making the noises and what he might be up to. Shoving the heavy drapes slightly aside, Bodie peeked in and was stopped cold by what he saw.

Ray was hunched over, his hand around his own cock, slowly bringing himself off. The part that tore at the young prince was the few silent tears that ran down his slave's cheeks. The pain and aloneness of the stark scene tore at Bodie's heart and made him realize what a selfish bastard he'd been. In the four weeks that he'd owned and used Ray, not once was he aware of him coming when he was being used. In fact, he realized, he took more notice and better care of his horses than he had of this young man who belonged to him. He'd treated him merely as an object for his own pleasure and release, not giving a damn about whether he enjoyed the experience or even achieved any satisfaction from the encounters. At that moment, seeing the lonely hunched form, silent tears falling, he was disgusted with himself as never before and, suddenly, someone else's pleasure became more important than his own.

"Ray," his anger at himself made his voice harsh and threatening. The slave jumped and immediately stopped what he was doing. He straightened but didn't turn and look at Bodie. Every line of his body said that he was expecting to be beaten for daring to relieve his own frustration.

Seeing his tension, Bodie came forward, took his hand, and softened his voice. "It's all right, Ray. Come on, you don't need to do that."

The side angled glance that Ray threw at him said very clearly to Bodie, 'That's what you think, mate.' But the slave didn't argue; he allowed the Prince to lead him back into the other room and into the large bed.

Ray started to turn over on his stomach so that his master could use him again, but Bodie stopped him and said, "No. Don't. Lie on your back. I'm sorry, sunshine. Been a selfish bastard, but not tonight. 'S your turn for some pleasure." And then he began to make love to his slave.

Sucking first on Ray's neck, he then moved up and nibbled on his ear, before tonguing it, until he began to feel his slave's cock becoming hard again, Ray having lost his erection upon being discovered. Smiling to himself, Bodie moved down to suck first one and then the other nipple. He spent considerable time licking and nipping all over Ray's chest. A moan escaped the slave's lips and the Prince found that creating pleasure in Ray was more exciting for himself than using the young man's arse had been earlier. At the sound of another moan, he shifted his attentions further down to lick and kiss Ray's belly. Bodie used his tongue on the smaller man's bellybutton and felt Ray arch up off the bed in response.

Needing no further encouragement, the Prince moved lower and took his slave's cock into his mouth. Always a bit competitive, Bodie worked hard to make sure that his first attempt at this caress upon his slave was as skillful as Ray's had been on him. He didn't know how long Ray had been denied release, but he surmised quite awhile, based on the response from the man beneath him. He heaved up and came with a loud groan. 'You might not be able to talk, sunshine, but you definitely can make noise,' Bodie chuckled to himself.

Rising up, Bodie lay down beside the spent man, only then becoming aware that he'd been so aroused himself by what he was doing that he'd come when Ray had. Bodie had just about drifted back to sleep, when he felt his bed slave sit up and start to leave the bed.

"Where you going?" he quizzed, his hand pulling the young man back down beside him.

Ray nodded towards his bed by the fireplace and started to rise again. The Prince's hand tightened, refusing to let Ray leave. Once the slave had given up the struggle, Bodie pulled him close, turned his face with a gentle hand on his cheek, and gave him a long lingering kiss--their first--in which he shared the taste of Ray's own come with it's owner.

Finally breaking the kiss, he pulled Ray's head down to rest in the crook of his arm and said, "Go to sleep, sunshine." Snuggled up together, both men were soon fast asleep.

The next morning, Bodie woke to find himself still cuddled up to his slave's back, with his full erection already stroking the crack of Ray's arse. Remembering the lessons of last night, he pulled his green-eyed tempter in tighter, and, as he slowly brought himself off against the muscular arse, he reached around and took the other man's cock into his hand and stroked and pumped him as well, until they both cried out their satisfaction.

"Sweet, sunshine, so sweet," he whispered as he nuzzled Ray's ear. Only seconds later, Marsden came charging into the room, knife in hand, ready to defend his Prince from attack.

Glad of the covers that concealed their nakedness, Bodie raised an eyebrow in question at his valet's unannounced presence.

"It's traditional to knock and wait for permission to enter," his tone held amusement rather than anger. He was hard pressed to maintain a calm exterior as Marsden stumbled out an explanation.

"My Lord...I'm sorry.... I thought...but I can see.... I mean, it won't've never...not even with the...." Marsden paused to collect himself and concluded, "Excuse me, your Highness, I'll await your summons. His face red with embarrassment, he bowed and swiftly left the room.

Bodie tried hard to contain his laughter and caught his breath in shock when he heard a deep, throaty chuckle coming from his bedmate. He leaned back a bit, and his arms encouraged Ray to turn over and face him. At the smile on the face of his companion, he found he couldn't think clearly. Instead, he pulled Ray into his arms and held him tightly, the gift of his laughter a memory Bodie was determined to treasure and to do his best to see occurred again and again. After a few moments, he moved his head enough so that they could share another kiss.

They kissed and stroked each other for a long time, for the simple enjoyment found in the touch and feel of another. The pleasure was substantial, but both men were still exhausted from the day before and drifted off to sleep again between one kiss and the next.

By the time they again reached consciousness, it was long past sunrise, and their stomachs were protesting vigorously the lack of nourishment. Bodie started to rise to summon food, but Ray pushed him back down on the bed and got up himself. He picked up the Prince's robe and looked at Bodie for permission to wear it.

"Help yourself to it anytime," he said in reply, thinking that it looked better on his green-eyed enchanter than it did on himself.

He watched when Marsden entered and was surprised to see that Ray was quite capable of getting his desires across even though he couldn't talk. He gestured at himself and the prince, then pointed to his mouth.

The valet replied, "Breakfast for two. What would you like?" He looked at Bodie for the answer, but Ray tapped him on the arm and got his attention. He was able in a very few movements to order eggs, ham, and an herbal brew.

Bodie interrupted that last, "Ray can drink that brew, I'll take warm ale." That got him a glare from Ray, and the slave wrinkled up his nose. Bodie replied, "It's not that bad for me." Another speaking look at the young man's middle and the Prince--much to Marsden's shock--gave in. "All right, make that two herbal brews." Looking disgruntled, he turned back to Ray and asked, "Satisfied now?"

A blinding smile and a nod answered his query. Seeing his valet frozen in surprise, Bodie encouraged him along, "Any time in the next decade, Marsden."

"Yes, milord. Sorry, milord." The stunned man bowed himself out of the room before he could receive any more shocks. No one else had ever been able to get the Prince to drink brew for breakfast. What was going on?

The next couple of weeks found the Prince even more exhausted than he had been before. Trouble was brewing along his southern borders, and the few reports that had made it back were not at all promising. It looked as though Orienta were preparing for war, and Bodie was willing to lay odds that Willus, its king, was about to test the new young ruler's strength and resolve. The only thing that kept him sane and rational during this period of waiting was his relationship with his bed slave.

Where before Ray was a passive object used only for pleasure, now he had become an active participant in their loving. Bodie discovered that having someone who treated him as an equal in bed--something he'd never experienced before, all previous lovers giving deference to his crown--and a willing partner able to meet him desire for desire, made the experience both more arousing and more fulfilling. He no longer felt the need for sex three or four times a day, but found that taking his time loving Ray and being loved to distraction in return was vastly more satisfying than the quick fucks he'd experienced before. And engaging in mutual fellatio was an experience beyond any he'd ever had. They'd both worked on perfecting their techniques over the last couple of weeks and now could draw it out for long periods of erotic stimulation. Bodie was embarrassed to realize that he had a lot to learn about loving a man, but was content to be learning it with Ray.

He sighed as he finished writing one letter, dropped candle wax on it, and pressed his signet ring into the wax to form a seal. The clock showed that it was well past one. Ray would be curled up in their bed asleep--after that first night that they slept together; Bodie wouldn't allow him to return to the trundle bed by the fire. He discovered that, for the first time in his life, he liked having a bed partner to cuddle up against in the night, and wake up to each morn, and wasn't about to let Ray leave his bed now. He sighed as he started on his next correspondence; he had at least another two hours worth of work before he could reasonably think of retiring and an early morning meeting with one of his captains who was on his way back to his border post. It meant that he'd have to go another day without loving Ray, and it had already been two days since their last time together. He wanted the slave's body, but he refused to use him for quick release; he was determined to wait until he had time to enjoy the encounter. A tap on the library door disturbed his train of thought.

"Enter." He looked up to see Ray in an old pair of his pants and his robe standing in the doorway. 'Must get him some clothes of his own.' "What are you doing here?"

The slave gave him a speaking look, full of desire, and reached down and rubbed his erect cock through the loose trousers.

"I can't come to bed now. I've got at least two more letters to answer," the Prince explained.

Ray looked put out and waved his right hand up and back, then pointed to himself and repeated the movement.

"No, I've not gone off you. It's just that trouble is brewing to the south, and I've got to deal with it. Wish to hell I knew what Willus was up to."

Walking swiftly towards him, Ray gestured at a map of Lodon and the surrounding kingdoms and pointed at Orienta, then ran his finger around the borders of all the surrounding kingdoms.

"You think he wants to take over all those lands?" At Ray's nod, Bodie conceded, "You could be right; but if he comes after all of us, he'll find that he's bit off more than he can chew."

Shaking his head, Ray indicated first one kingdom being taken by Orienta, then another, and another.

"One at a time? Probably. But I'd notice and stop him after he took one or two of the others."

The green-eyed man pointed at Bodie first, and then at the slightly larger fiefdom of DeLorne. He held up one finger as he pointed at Bodie and two at DeLorne. The meaning was clear.

"Me first, because I'm new and untried, and then DeLorne because King Doyle is old and failing. Yes, it's a good plan. Once he secures control of our two lands, the others would be hard pressed to stand up to him." Bodie studied the map and considered his choices. Ray's opinions were not new to him--he'd been thinking along similar lines as well. His captains had been urging a wait and see attitude, but the Prince was getting the uncomfortable feeling that if he waited it would be too late to move by the time they had the proof they needed of Willus's acquisitive intentions. He spoke his thoughts aloud, "Still, knowing what he plans doesn't tell me what to do about it."

Ray brought his hand down in a sideways chop to the map and held it there. It fell along the borders between the two lands. He repeated the gesture when he had Bodie's full attention. Then he pointed to two places along the border and cupped his hands miming gathering objects into one area.

The Prince gazed up, startled, and queried, "You're suggesting I concentrate all my forces in those two areas? Why there? There are at least two other good fords to cross the river. What if they should slip through at one of the others while I guard those?"

Again Ray's hands went to work: he indicated that while the terrain on Lodon's side of the river was passable for troops, it was less than hospitable on the Orienta side for the movement of large numbers. He signed that one area was reached over very swampy, damp ground and that the other was very exposed, and any troops that approached from that direction would be picked off easily. Bodie didn't know about the swamp land, but he could recall the other approach and had to agree with Ray's evaluation.

"You've traveled in that area, then?" Ray nodded. "And given your knowledge, you think these two are the most likely approaches if he decided to attack?" Another nod. "Do you have a preference for which he'd choose?" Here his slave shrugged to indicate that either was very likely--then he pointed at the hill pass to the east. "Why that one, for preference?" Ray mimed more cover.

Bodie nodded; yes, it made sense, and he decided to concentrate his defenses there and leave a smaller band at the other pass, with only watchers to guard the final two. He told Ray his plans. Ray shook his head at the last and pointed to three locations within the borders of Orienta to post a watch.

"That violates their land and our treaty."

Ray shrugged and brought his hand down in the same chopping motion on the border line of the map. Stop them there, or not at all he seemed to be indicating. It was a bold plan--more so than the Prince, so new a leader, would normally chose to go with--but for some reason he trusted Ray and believed that he was right. He would instruct his captain in the morning and send out an order to gather men to the castle to train for battle. If Willus did attack, he wouldn't find Bodie unprepared.

As the Prince considered his plans, he found his shoulders being massaged by his slave. Gently at first, the hands dug in harder and moved slowly down his back to loosen muscles that he hadn't even realized were tied in knots. Ray worked his back over thoroughly, leaning down every now and again to nibble his neck, and then gently guided him to lie down on the bearskin rug before the fire. He built the fire up while Bodie watched him and then turned, dropped the robe and trousers to the floor, and came to kneel beside the now aroused man. He slowly stripped the Prince of his garments, kissing, licking and sucking as he did so. Bodie moaned as Ray's magic tongue penetrated his bellybutton before swiftly moving down to lick his cock.

'Fates, it was heaven.' He groaned in frustration when Ray stopped and knelt up to reach for the robe. Bodie watched as the slave pulled the jar of salve from its pocket and returned to his master's side. Gently, he applied the ointment to the now iron hard cock; finished, he set the pot aside and then knelt astride the supine Prince and slowly lowered himself onto the hard shaft. Bodie's head arched back, and his body lifted off the floor to deepen the penetration.

"By the Fates," he cried out in exhilaration as his thighs connected with Ray's muscular arse, "yes, oh yes!"

This time it was Ray guiding him, calling the shots, bringing them both to a fevered peak, as he fucked himself up and down--hard--on Bodie's cock. Losing all control and restraint, he grabbed Ray's hips and used his legs to lift himself firmly up into each of his lover's downward thrusts.

"Raaayyy!!!" he screamed as he came. Prince Bodie came back to himself a few minutes later to find Ray collapsed on his chest, the slave's come sticky between them. A soft snore coming from his lover told him that Ray was fast asleep. Bodie chuckled and shook the sleeping man.

"Come on, love. Much as I enjoy this, if we don't go up to bed, we're going to be cold and stiff by morning." Slave and master stood and began to dress.

Jerking his head at the Prince's desk, Ray reluctantly reminded him of his duties.

"Since I've made these plans, Captain Zuck will have to wait for a few troops to get ready to accompany him. I'll finish the letters for him to carry in the morning. So fuck 'em, they can wait." Seeing Ray shake his head, Bodie raised an eyebrow and asked, "What?"

The slave made a circle with the index finger and thumb of his left hand and then stuck the middle finger of his right hand through it. He stopped, then pointed to himself, and gave Bodie a wink.

"You little devil," Bodie laughed, "get up to bed before I turn you over my knee."

Ray's brows went up, his lips formed an 'O', then he ran his tongue around them, as he winked again. Seeing Bodie's start of surprise, he laughed as he turned and took off running, the Prince not far behind.

By mid-afternoon the next day Prince Bodie was exhausted. He'd gotten to bed late--even with Ray convincing him to come to bed earlier than he'd planned--and had had to waken early to give instructions for his new scheme to be enacted and to have Captain Zuck delay his departure by a few hours. Then he spent the morning fighting with his advisors and captains on the wisdom of either posting watchers across the borders in Orienta or of concentrating his forces on the ford at Chrisp's Fork. The arguments ranged from King Willus wasn't up to anything, and if he found out about the watchers and the troops, he was going to assume that Bodie was preparing for war, to the opposite opinion that Willus was ripe for war, and it was unwise not to protect the other fords. It would be better, he was told, to place the majority of his troops ten miles in from the river, and they could then meet any invasion on the Monarch Plains.

Bodie didn't like that idea at all. It meant all the lands between the plains and the River Zenn would be open to Orienta's mercy, and, even if they defeated an invasion force on the plains, Willus's troops would have gained a foothold across the river. Lodon's southern lands would then never be safe from forays and raiding parties by Orienta's army. They had all argued until he'd lost his temper and pointed out that he was the bloody ruler and they'd sworn to obey him. It was what he was trained for, after all. And as none of them could seem to agree on what Orienta and its King Willus were plotting, he considered this the best strategy for covering the most risky possibilities.

After that annoying morning, he hadn't felt up to facing more debate over lunch, so he'd ordered his to be served in his study and requested that Ray join him. He'd discussed the situation with Ray, the mute slave able, with grunts, facial expressions, and hand gestures, to communicate his feelings on the various opinions expressed. His mind and wit were sharp and by the end of the meal Bodie felt much better.

"Have you seen much of the castle yet, besides the servants quarters and kitchens?"

Ray shook his head no.

"Well I've done all the arguing I'm going to for the time being, so let me give you a tour." They walked along, the Prince pointing out his favorite bits and giving his slave some of his family's history. He also showed him several secret passages and took him through one that ran underground from one side of the castle to the other. It was not long after they'd come out of it that one of the palace guards caught up with them and informed the ruler that the troop was ready to depart, and the captain was awaiting the Prince's leave.

Bodie had started towards the stables, talking to Ray as he went, only to be pulled up by the slave's hand on his arm.

"What's wrong?"

Looking down at the ill fitting and shabby clothes he wore, Ray indicated that he'd rather not be seen by the king's guard in that attire. Also, that it was very cold out, and he wasn't adequately covered.

"Sorry, sunshine. I'll have to do something about that. Can you find your way back?"

A negative shake of his head and Bodie turned to the guard who had found him. "Escort Ray back to my chambers." He smiled at his green-eyed slave and hurried off to give Captain Zuck last minute instructions.

The briefing at the stables took longer than he'd expected, and, as he watched a troop of thirty men ride out, he was surprised to find himself accosted by one of the scullery maids.

She was breathing hard and crying. "Please, your highness," the girl was terrified but determined, "Ray's in trouble. They're going to hurt him." She grabbed his hand and tugged. "Please."

Bodie didn't need any second bidding. "Where are they? Quick, wench, I can get there much faster on my own."

She stopped, caught her breath again, and panted out, "The guard's office, just off the back kitchen."

Not waiting to hear more, he took off at a run. It was only a couple of minutes later that he came upon the fight. One of the guard wardens and two of his men had Ray cornered in the back hall just off the kitchen. The slave was holding them off with a knife, and it was obvious from the cuts and blood on the soldiers that he was quite capable of defending himself. The warden had apparently just returned from getting his sword and was preparing to disarm Ray, probably injuring him in the process. Bodie called a halt.

"That's enough. What's going on here?"

The warden stopped his advance towards the slave, checked to see that Ray was being watched by his men, then stepped back, bowed, and addressed the king.

"Guard Paulie was escorting the slave back to your chambers as you ordered, when the slave attacked him and tried to escape. He was able to stop him, and chased him here, but was injured in the skirmish. Paulie called for assistance, and we were in the process of trying to subdue him when you arrived."

"I see." The Prince took a good look at the swelling and cut to the side of Paulie's face. He'd certainly taken a good knock to the head. He noticed that the warden and the other guard were dripping blood from several gashes as well. None of the wounds appeared to be serious, but the men looked ready to make Ray pay for their injuries.

He turned to look at Ray, who was no longer in a fighting stance and had allowed the hand that held the knife to drop down limp at his side. Bodie moved towards him, only to find the warden's hand on his arm as the man spoke, "Watch it, milord. He's armed and will likely draw your blood."

"I doubt that, Warden." Bodie walked over to Ray, clasped his shoulder, and asked, "What happened?"

Paulie spoke, "He's mute. Can't talk, milord."

Bodie glared back over his shoulder at the man with disgust. 'My horse has more brains,' the Prince decided. He turned to Ray, who then proceeded in several crude and explicit hand movements to accuse the guard of trying to rape him.

"That's a lie," Paulie shouted. "He's just covering up his attempt to escape."

The warden stood up for his man, "We've only the slave's word, and it's more than likely that he decided to take his chance for freedom."

"Is it? Funny. I doubt that." Prince William turned and smiled at Ray before elaborating, "You seem to be in ignorance about a few things, Warden. First, Ray wasn't sold into slavery to pay his own debts, but those of his stepfather. It was his choice to allow himself to be sold instead of his sister. If he were to escape, then she would be taken to pay the debt. Why become a slave in the first place if you're only going to cut and run and condemn your family to slavery?"

Bodie saw his personal guard approaching and motioned for them to guard Paulie as he continued, "And the other fact that you might not be aware of is that this is the third time that Guard Paulie had been accused of trying to force his attentions on an unwilling victim. The first accuser hadn't enough proof, the second was suddenly much better off--an extra mule, if I remember correctly--and now there's Ray. Somehow, I tend to believe his accusations rather than a man with a history of attempted rape." The Prince's voice had started soft, almost lazy in tone, but by the end his anger was barely controlled as he pronounced his judgement.

"Warden, as you saw fit to attack my property without first consulting me, you and your two guards are now assigned to the northern watch post. Gerald," Bodie addressed one of his personal guards, "you will arrange escort for these three men to their new posts. If there is any problem...well, I'm sure you will know what to do." The Prince's restrained anger left no doubt as to what would happen if the men resisted.

"You can't.... I didn't...." Paulie started to protest.

"You can either go quietly now or face a trial. But I assure you that I'll bring in the other man and woman whom you attacked to testify, and, if you're found guilty, I'll have you executed. Be thankful that I'm showing you mercy and only exiling you to the northern realm. But be warned. One more such accusation and I'll have you castrated. Now be gone by nightfall, or I might change my mind." Bodie turned and stormed off towards his chambers, only stopping when he realized that Ray hadn't followed him. Turning back, he glared at the slave, and Ray quickly hurried to catch up to his master.

The walk back to his bed chamber was conducted in silence. Upon arriving, the Prince summoned Marsden.

"Send for my tailor. I want him here as fast as possible." As Marsden hesitated the Prince nodded and said, "That will be all for now."

After the valet left, Bodie turned to Ray and ordered, "Strip."

Ray cast him a wary look, but he followed the Prince's orders and removed his torn and bloodstained clothes.

"Turn around. No. Not like that," he instructed in exasperation as Ray executed a swift pivot, "Slowly. That's right." Bodie studied him carefully, before giving further instructions, "Now go lie down on the bed." As Ray started towards his now rarely used bed in the corner by the fireplace, Bodie said impatiently, "Not that bed, dolt. Our bed."

The use of the term 'our' in reference to the bed caused Ray to shoot the Prince a quick, startled glance over his shoulder, but he went and lay face down on the large bed. Bodie joined him and proceeded to inspect every inch of his body very carefully. He then encouraged his slave to roll over and performed the same minute inspection on his front side as well. His teeth were clenched, his eyes looked daggers. Ray was tense beneath him, and his discomfort finally broke through the Prince's absorption.

"What...what's the matter?" Ray cast him a slightly fearful, very puzzled look, and Bodie suddenly realized that Ray thought he was angry with him. The blue-eyed man relaxed, and, reaching up, he gently stroked the marred cheek.

"It's all right, sunshine. Not mad at you, am I? Furious with that bastard Paulie and Warden Howe for being stupid enough to believe him." He cupped Ray's chin in his hand to hold his face where he couldn't turn away, "I want the truth, Ray. Don't lie to me. Did he have you?"

Ray shook his head. Bodie grasped his shoulders so that they shared a long look.

"You sure?"

Ray looked disgusted and pulled away enough so that he could gesture with his hands that Paulie was no match for him.

That won him a smile from Bodie. "Good thing, that, cause if he'd had you, I'd have killed him."

That won Bodie one of Ray's heart melting smiles. They shared a long kiss that was just starting to progress nicely when a knock sounded at the door.

"Fuck!" Bodie was none to pleased but smiled to see Ray saying the same thing with his hands. "That little gesture is downright obscene. Behave yourself, lover."

They shared a smile as Ray pulled on his robe, and Bodie called, "Come in."

"You sent for me, Prince Bodie?" Roger, the tailor, was answering his summons.

"That's right. I want clothes for Ray here. Take his measurements. I want at least four outfits, plus nightshirts and under raiment. He'll need one for riding, one for dining, and two for normal wear. I'll order more later, after you finish those. Oh, and also a warm cloak."

Smiling and rubbing his hands together at the thought of such a large order, especially from someone who paid on time, the man got down to the business of measuring Ray.

It didn't take long for his measurements to be taken. The tailor, excited at the order, discussed his plans as he made note of the measurements and the slave's build.

"I've got a nice heavy, brown wool for the cape, and it should do well for the pants and coats, too. There should be plenty of homespun for the shirts--"

"Hold on a minute. You seem to have misunderstood me, Roger," the Prince interrupted the tailor's planning, "I want these clothes fit for me to wear. You're to make Ray's clothes with the same fabrics and attention to detail you use for my own. And I'll be very displeased if I find that you've done less than your best."

Bowing obsequiously, the tailor apologized, "'M sorry, Milord. I mis-understood. The fabrics will be only the best. But it will take longer to finish the clothes then. I'll need to order cloth."

"I thought I saw several bolts of fabric delivered to your quarters just a few days ago."

"You did, sir. But those were ordered for you and some of your councilors."

"Well, we'll just have to wait. Ray's clothes come first. Now, do you have all you need?" Bodie was anxious to get rid of the man so that they could resume their interrupted lovemaking.

Roger bowed himself out, thinking that there were going to be several disgruntled members of the court, but that the Prince was the prince and as such had to be humored. He found himself wondering as he hurried back to his chambers, 'Who is this green-eyed man and why is he so important to the prince?' Ah, well, he'd have to listen closely to castle gossip and gather more details.

Two days later the first of Ray's clothes were ready. Trying them on under the Prince's watchful eye, it was apparent that both men were pleased with the results.

"These are fine, Roger. Make the rest like these, and you'll be well deserving of your inflated prices," Bodie congratulated the tailor.

Ray smiled his thanks, and pulling on his lapels indicated that he was pleased with both the fabric and the fit. The young slave was now one of the more finely dressed men in the court. It did not go unnoticed by the court.

Now that Ray had suitable, warm clothes, Bodie kept him at his side both day and night. They rode together--the Prince surprised and pleased by how good a horseman his slave proved to be--Ray dined at his left hand during meals, and during meetings would often be seen to be sketching in the corner while the men talked. He'd also accompanied his prince on many forays out into the realm. One in particular had left Bodie shaken.

It had been market day, and the Prince had received word that a particular leather artisan whom he favored was passing through. He wanted to see if a saddle he'd ordered was ready yet and also order several additional items, a saddle and a pair of boots for Ray being among them. They'd drifted through the permanent stalls and past the wagons of those passing through. He'd bought a few items for himself and a couple for Ray as well. He'd also given the slave some coins so that he might buy something if he saw anything he wanted.

Finally, coming upon the craftsman he was looking for, he began to examine the finished saddle and to describe what he now wanted made. The negotiations were intense, and he was only peripherally aware of Ray wandering farther along and looking at the wares on display. Ray had turned a corner of a permanent booth, just out of sight, when Bodie heard two women's voices shouting his slave's name. Turning his back on the artisan without a word, the Prince hurried to see if it were his Ray they were calling, and whom the women might be.

He came to the side of the booth and glanced around the corner, wanting to watch unobserved. Ray was releasing one woman from an embrace and had picked up the other one and was spinning her around, joy on his face. An intense shard of jealousy pierced Bodie's heart, pain radiating out from where it lanced. 'Who were these women that brought such joy to Ray's face?'

Ray set the woman down, and Bodie got his first good look at her, his jealousy easing; she had to be the sister. From his position and distance, he couldn't tell if her eyes were green, but her hair was of the same color and curl, her build slighter, but similar, her height a hand span shorter than Ray's, and the face was so like his lover's that he had no doubt of the relationship. She appeared to be a bit older than his lover, but it was hard to tell. Life might have aged her before her time. Shifting his gaze to the other woman, he studied her closely as the two women chatted away at Ray, asking questions, but not waiting for the answers.

Ray's mother, for Bodie realized that was whom she must be, was shorter than either of her children, but she radiated the same vitality that he'd seen in his slave on rare occasions--mostly when they were in bed together. She talked with her hands almost as much as Ray, punctuating each word and phrase with a gesture for emphasis. The Prince wondered if that were a habit she'd developed from being with her silent son. Her hair was long and auburn, like her children's, but it was pulled back firmly into a braid. Remembering that Murphy had told him that she was a midwife, Bodie could see the practicality of keeping it well back out of the way. The hair was touched with grey, but it didn't make her look old, only wise. She had the same exotic beauty as her son and a firm touch and voice that spoke of strength and determination.

Bodie, who'd been idly listening to the women chat at Ray--his lover being content to smile, listen and touch--was suddenly pulled up out of his pleasant haze by the older woman's words.

"I've saved up over half the money needed to ransom you. I'm going to send to George and ask him for the rest."

'No!' Bodie's mind screamed, 'You can't take him away! He's mine!' Later, the Prince would be ashamed of the thoughts and plans that came to mind to stop the women from paying the bond price and freeing Ray. Everything from running them out of his kingdom to hiring someone to steal what funds they had occurred to him. He was deep in his plans and misery when he was brought up short by Ray's actions.

The slave shook his head vigorously no.

"What do you mean no? There's little danger in contacting George."

Ray nodded agreement at that, but still indicated no ransom.

His sister piped in, "Why the hell not? For heaven's sake, Ray, anyone would think you wanted to be a slave."

Again a nod of no.

"No to slave or no to ransom?" his mother asked. It was obvious that she was very concerned about her son.

The slave held up two fingers for both.

"You don't want to be a slave, yet you won't let me ransom you. I don't understand. I assume you've been well treated." Ray nodded yes, even though it hadn't been a question--his attire was enough to indicate that he was being well taken care of. "Who owns your bond? The slave dealer wouldn't tell us. Are you afraid that he'd harm us if we tried to buy your freedom?"

At Ray's adamant shake of his head to the last question, Bodie felt shame for the jealousy and possessiveness that had overtaken his thoughts at the mention of Ray being freed. He watched the slave indicate that his mother and sister should wait, and he would return. Bodie backed away from the edge of the stall, knowing that Ray was coming to get him, and began to study the wares of a cloth merchant. It wasn't more than a couple of seconds before he felt a tug on his sleeve and looked up to see Ray smiling at him and gesturing for him to follow.

Raising his eyebrow in question, pretending he didn't know why the young man wanted him to come, Bodie allowed Ray to guide him through the crowd to his mother and sister. He watched the women's reaction carefully and was startled to note that when they recognized who was accompanying their son and brother, while they both showed surprise, neither seemed to be awed or intimidated by him.

Bodie smiled at Ray's family--he found that it was important to him that they like him, especially now that Ray seemed determined to stay with him. As the women curtsied in greeting, he took first Ray's mother's hand and then his sister's, bringing their hands to his lips and kissing the backs of each in turn, he bowed slightly to the women.

"I'd ask who you are, but the beauty before me tells me that you must be Ray's mother and sister."

Watching Ray's mother give him the once over, Bodie fought hard not to squirm. 'No, this one isn't the least intimidated by the fact that I'm the ruler of this land. Well, now I know where Ray gets it from.'

Being nothing if not direct, Ray's mother went for the heart of the matter. "So you're the man who bought my son?"

"Ah, no. A friend bought Ray for my birthday present."

"I see. So you didn't specifically request him?"

"No. But had I known of his existence, no price would have been too dear." With those words, the Prince took Ray's hand and brought it to his lips, but instead of kissing the back, he turned it and kissed the palm. The green eyes had been watching his mother, but upon that action turned swiftly towards his prince, and they shared a smile as Ray's hand moved up to brush Bodie's cheek briefly before falling back to his side.

Mother and sister watched the look that passed between the two men with surprise. The Prince couldn't know it, but this was the first time they'd ever seen Ray care for another outside of his family in this manner. His childhood had made him wary and reluctant to trust and love.

"I'm Margueritte Le Beau, and this is my daughter, Sinead. Don't bother to introduce yourself; I do know who you are, Prince Bodie." Out of the corner of his eye, Bodie saw Ray roll his eyes; it made the Prince grin--Ray's mother had no doubt been a handful for her son as he grew up. He nudged his lover gently with his elbow, and Ray, seeing his teasing grin, nudged back. They stopped before it could develop further--their last such wrestling match had ended rather passionately on Bodie's desk in the library--the market setting was a bit too public for them to proceed. They exchanged another heated look and then, remembering where they were, looked away from each other in embarrassment.

Margueritte cleared her throat, then said to Bodie, "I'd intended to buy my son's bond shortly, but he tells me that he doesn't want me to." Ray nodded his affirmation. "I'll respect his wishes for now," she gave her son a hard, dissatisfied glare before continuing, "But treat him well, your Highness."

'This one's a tiger,' Bodie concluded, 'It's no wonder Ray's got the courage and passion that he does.'

To Ray's mother he said, "Don't worry, Madame Le Beau, he will be well treated, always. You have my word. But, please, won't you join us for a meal? Because of Ray's affliction, I've not been able to learn much about his past. Perhaps you could tell me some stories?" As he saw her glance towards her son and hesitate, he pushed, "There's an excellent tavern at the east side of the market. I've ordered a nuncheon to be prepared for myself and Ray. I'm sure that there will be plenty." The Prince bestowed one of his most charming smiles on the two women, and soon they had agreed to dine.

As they walked to the tavern, the women in the lead, Ray and Bodie behind, Ray made a couple of rude gestures indicating that Bodie was a charmer and a scoundrel. Ruffling his lover's hair, the Prince just laughed. His lover indicated that he wanted to make a quick purchase and left Bodie standing behind the women. He chuckled even harder as he overheard Sinead comment to her mother that Ray always seemed to land on his feet, and she didn't blame him a bit for not wanting his freedom.

Margueritte was rather sharp with her daughter, pointing out that nothing was worth giving up your freedom, and that Ray was refusing not because he liked captivity, but because he feared for their safety if anyone else but George were to learn of their situation. Mother and daughter exchanged a glare, but, upon realizing how close the Prince was, they dropped the subject. Ray returned from his purchase at a silver merchant, and they proceeded to the tavern.

Lunch was a jolly affair, filled with stories of Ray's antics as a child and adolescent. Bodie was delighted to see his lover blush on more than one occasion as his adventures were revealed. It was only much later that the Prince realized that although he'd learned a lot about what Ray was like as a youth and his approach to life, he'd learned absolutely nothing about where he'd grown up, his family history, or what profession he'd taken as an adult. From some of the talk, Bodie got the impression that his slave might have followed in his mother's footsteps and taken up midwifery, but he wasn't sure. Before he could probe more, a man had interrupted them to request Margueritte's presence at a birth. Mother and daughter left swiftly with promises to keep in touch and to try to visit even though they were a good distance from the castle. Bodie assured them that they would always be welcome.

The last surprise of a most interesting day occurred back in their chambers. His lover presented the Prince with a silver ring that he'd bought with the money Bodie had given him. It was simple and all the more beautiful for that simplicity, two silver bands that were separate, yet could be woven together to appear as one. Ray placed it on Bodie's finger, and they shared a long deep kiss. Finding himself unable to speak Bodie, let his body communicate for him as he made tender, passionate love to Ray.

Sated, the men cuddled together, Bodie holding tight to his precious gift.

In the weeks and months that followed the Prince's birthday, his advisors and councilors noticed a change in him. He was less hesitant in making decisions, more likely to stick to them once made, and also bolder in the courses of action that he chose. Most put it down to Prince Bodie becoming more comfortable in his role as ruler, and it wasn't until Lord Murphy's return that anyone spotted the source of Bodie's new found confidence. But Murphy was too good a friend, and had known Bodie too long, not both to spot the difference in his friend and to come up with a pretty good guess as to the source.

Rumors had filtered back to him on his estates over the weeks he'd been gone from court. As soon as his necessary business had been concluded, he'd headed back to take a good gander at his friend and the changes that had been wrought in him. Once back in Lodon, Murphy'd remained in the background to watch the Prince and to see for himself what everyone was talking about. The differences were subtle, shadings of grey rather than black and white in their distinctions, but they were there nonetheless. It'd only taken a couple of days for Lord Murphy's attention to focus on the Prince's slave. He began to study Ray and his interactions with Bodie carefully.

Ray attended all meetings now--quite a surprise to Murphy--but spent them drawing rather than paying attention. At least that's how it appeared. Murphy wondered...? The sketching had been quite a surprise--not only that Ray chose to do it, but that he was quite good at it as well. At first, many of Prince Bodie's advisors and counselors had been uncomfortable with the slave's presence, but after a week or so they became accustomed to him and regarded him as little more than another servant or even a pet.

Murphy soon knew better and so, apparently, did Prince Bodie. He discovered that Ray had a biting wit and an appreciation for the absurd, and that while seeming not to listen, was in point of fact very aware of everything going on around him. The more pompous advisors Murphy had caught Ray mimicking in private moments with the Prince, and he'd learned, by watching the Prince's reactions, to read the green-eyed man's slightest movements, so that he often had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing at a glance or hand motion that Ray would make during a particularly ponderous speech or debate. The prince had always found these meetings boring, but with Ray there to share them, Murphy realized that his friend was enjoying them more and listening more carefully. It quickly became clear that Bodie was even looking forward to some of the more ponderous speakers, just to see what his slave would make of them. Murphy found the silent man's subtle wit amusing as well, but was careful not to let anyone--especially not Bodie or Ray--see that he was aware of what went on between them.

And it hadn't taken more than a week of watching the pair before Murphy realized that the green-eyed man was also indicating what he thought about the discussions taking place. Astute gestures or looks would indicate that he thought a man lying, or ignorant, or well-informed, and also his opinion on any plans suggested. The slave's knowledge about such subjects as crops and livestock was very limited, and then he contributed little, but when it came to discussions of war and battle and possible military preparations, he had very definite opinions.

Ray also was very aware of court gossip and the politics thereof. Murphy had watched from concealment as Ray had cued the Prince in on what was being kept from him on several occasions. When Bodie wondered aloud, and with disgruntlement, why Ray seemed to know more than he, Ray motioned that because he couldn't talk, many thought him to be stupid, and that even if they didn't believe him imbecilic, they held to the belief that he couldn't pass along what he heard. After that revelation, the Prince often sent his slave to listen in to servant's gossip and other court doings and report back. Murphy noticed that it was the only time Bodie'd allow Ray to be away from his side for any length of time.

So, while his advisors rambled on, none realized that the one the Prince was listening to the most was the mute slave sketching by the fire. None that was until Murphy had returned towards the end of the second week of Ray's new freedom and had started to watch the Prince and his birthday gift.

The Lord was horrified to realize how much input a slave--whose background was totally unknown--had into the running of the kingdom. He also realized that he was jealous of the closeness between his prince and the slave. He'd never have given his mate such a present had he known how Bodie would react. But then, he mused, given the Prince's track record, there was no way in hell that anyone could have predicted this infatuation.

If there were one thing the young prince was known for, it was his ability to keep the world at a distance. He didn't trust most people, and it took years for him to allow anyone close. Murphy, his closest friend, had been with him since childhood and still felt that there was much of Bodie that was kept hidden away from him. And sex.... Well, sex--although an important part of the Prince's life--was only fun and games or a requirement of his new marriage to produce an heir. Bodie loved no one and wanted no close ties. At least, that's what Murphy had believed right up until this last two weeks of watching the Prince and his slave. Now? Well, now he was having a hard time accepting what he saw and believing it was real; he was positive that it wouldn't last. Still, he decided that only time alone with Bodie could give him the answers to the questions he had.

Determined to get Bodie isolated to talk to him, he'd pulled the young prince aside as he and Ray were headed off to bed. He'd encouraged Ray to go on ahead, telling him that he wouldn't keep the Prince long. Nodding, Ray had left, but now that he had Bodie alone, Murphy found he didn't know how to approach the subject. Bodie had never lost his head over anybody before, and his friend was still finding it hard to believe that he'd done so now.

After some minutes of idle chatter, Murphy finally managed to bring the conversation around to his birthday present to Bodie. Neither man was aware that Ray had returned to find what was keeping his lover.

Murphy sipped his wine and then studied his glass, asking casually, "I see you are enjoying my present."

Looking up from his contemplation of the fire, Bodie was not fooled by his friend's casual attitude. Murphy had been watching them too closely of late not to know that Bodie cared for and respected the slave.

"I...." Bodie stumbled over his answer, finally saying only, "Yes, I'm enjoying your present."

"I didn't exactly expect to see him standing at your side and dressed in clothes fit for you. He was only to relieve your sexual frustration, not to advise you on running the kingdom."

"What makes you think...? Is there gossip that implies...?" Bodie did not want anyone to know how important Ray had become.

"No. No gossip. Not as of yet, at least. You've both been very careful, but don't forget I've known you since we were children." Murphy paced in front of the fire. "That's what has me worried. This isn't like you, Bodie."

Bodie stood up, walked over to the sideboard, and poured himself a glass of scotch. Turning, he perched one hip on the sideboard and sipped his drink, trying to appear casual and unconcerned. Finally, seeing that Murphy was going to stare him down until he had an answer, the Prince shrugged.

"What do you want me to say? I like my present."

Standing abruptly from adjusting the fire, Murphy spoke sharply, "I intended to supply you with some sexual release, not an advisor to help you rule the kingdom."

"I follow my own council--"

"Bullshite! You're not going to try to tell me that your aggressive moves towards Orienta were your own idea--"

"They are a wise precaution, given what we know of Willus--"

"And given what we know, he's just as likely to use them as an excuse for war if they are discovered."

"I don't think--"

"That's the trouble, Bodie. You're thinking with your balls and allowing a slave to influence your decisions. A man, I might point out, whom we know nothing about. If he's such a good advisor, then free him, and appoint him to the council. Then, at least, your other advisors can argue against his suggestions."

Bodie, angry and defensive, unwilling to admit even to Murphy how important Ray had become, and guilty because he'd considered that very plan, but, for his own selfish reasons, had decided against such an action, struck out in anger, saying words he neither meant nor believed.

"He's my bed whore. Nothing more. Now leave it--" before he could finish, a noise came from the hall, a table being bumped or a chair jarred. Bodie spun towards the sound, knowing instinctively who it must have been and furious with both himself and Murphy. "Ray," he called, but whoever it was hurried away.

He addressed one last command to Lord Murphy, "Drop the subject and don't bring it up again. To anyone! If I hurt him again because of your interference he won't be the one to leave the court." The Prince turned and went swiftly to find his lover.

'Damn. Why did you have to hear that, sunshine?' The Prince slammed his fist into his thigh. 'I'm an insensitive arse and I didn't mean a word of it. Got to make you understand, I was just trying to put Murph off the scent. He only means if for the best. He just doesn't realize....' Bodie checked the halls as he rushed along heading for his chamber and hoping and praying that that was where Ray would run. He couldn't put out a search for him. Some guard, not happy with what had happened to Paulie and their warden, might use it as a chance for vengeance.

Entering his rooms, he felt chilled when he scanned the room and the bed to see them empty. He was turning to go in search of Marsden to see if he had an idea where Ray would run to, when he spotted a huddled form on the trundle bed in the corner. He sighed in relief. 'Now if only he'll listen.'

Walking over to Ray, he put a gentle hand on his arm beneath the blankets only to be shrugged off violently.

"Come on, sunshine. We need to talk." Ray just burrowed further under the covers. Bodie grabbed the top of them and pulled them back and off Ray. The slave rolled over and glared up at the Prince.

Not able to find room enough to sit on the small cot, and becoming chilled in the night air, Bodie ordered, "Up and in our bed," Ray looked ready to resist; Bodie ordered, "Now!"

The slave stood, wrapping a cloak of injured dignity about himself, and, with head held high, marched over to the Prince's bed and sat on the very end, his back to the Prince. Bodie came up behind him and began to massage his shoulders as he started to explain.

"I suppose you thought that I'd free you because of how we feel about each other?" Ray kept his head turned away, his shoulders slumped, refusing to relax under his lover's gentle touch. "Suppose that would be the fair thing to do, but I won't." Ray stiffened further; Bodie sighed. "I can't free you. I'm a selfish bastard, been catered to all my life and I won't give you up."

Ray turned his head and glared over his shoulder. Bodie knew what he meant.

"Under the marriage treaty between Melgrain and my kingdom, I'm allowed to take no female to my bed, nor any man of standing in either country. If I free you, King Errol will most certainly regard your continued presence in my bed as a violation of the treaty." Bodie pulled Ray back into his arms and held him close against his heart.

"It's why I was so harsh with Murphy, and have been so careful about letting anyone see that I value your advice. If Errol discovers the truth and demands that I get rid of you...." The Prince leaned to kiss his lover's cheek before continuing in frustration, "I can't afford trouble with Melgrain now. We're a strong land, but we won't be able to stand up to trouble both to the north and south."

Letting Ray go, Bodie left the bed and began to pace as all the worries that he'd kept hidden over the months since his father's death poured out, "My father was anxious for the treaty. We were both afraid that Errol would come to an arrangement with Willus--they're distant cousins, you know--and Lodon would be caught in the middle. I think that King Errol settled on us because he trusts King Willus even less than we do. But he wants an heir of his blood to rule his lands. If the child that Mary carries is not male," he paused, throwing his hand up in anger and frustration, "It may all fall through anyway. That's always assuming that she and the babe live."

Bodie poured them some mulled wine, handing a goblet to Ray and pleased when it wasn't rejected, as he continued. "God, I hated bedding her." At Ray's raised eyebrow of skepticism, the Prince smiled back. "Oh, I like women all right...but, women! She's little more than a child and a sickly one at that. I was torn between praying she would get pregnant for the kingdom's sake and that she wouldn't because I didn't want to feel like a murderer. Even I could see looking at her that she's not like to survive the pregnancy. But her father's old and impatient for an heir, and her health is so frail that every winter might be her last.

"I felt like a bloody assassin when I touched her. Couldn't get it up the first couple of times I was with her." The pacing man ran a hand through his hair, "Damn, was that embarrassing. Got drunk for the third, and after that it was a bit easier."

Here he paused and looked at Ray for awhile. Ray had finally turned and was watching him, although his face remained blank. Being called nothing more than a bed whore had obviously hurt him deeply.

The Prince continued his musing, making his apology with the truth he'd hidden. "The only thing that kept me sane during all those times with her was that she wanted to have a child. Her health might be weak, but she's got quite a spirit. She hates Willus--refers to him as the usurper. Can't really blame her, the way any other contenders to the throne of Orienta disappeared or met with fatal accidents. He's definitely bad news, and she wants to do whatever she can to save her people from his rule." He smiled, thinking about his wife, "She's got a lot of courage, sunshine. Just like you. Don't know if I'd have as much in her position." Bodie spared a thought and prayer for the wife he never spoke of and whose existence he tried to forget.

Sighing, the Prince came to a decision. "If I wasn't in this damn marriage bond, then I'd pledge you, and everyone else be damned. But I am, and I can't afford trouble with Melgrain; but it's not fair to you to keep you like this...." Bodie took a deep breath, fighting to get the words out, "I'll free you. You've done enough service to pay your debt and it's not right that you should be treated so. I'm sorry for what I said to Murphy. I was just afraid that if he made an issue of it, Errol would catch on to how important you've become. With the way successions have been determined of late, he's afraid for his daughter and grandchild. He needs a blood heir with a strong claim to his throne."

Walking swiftly to his desk, Bodie began to write the words that would separate him from Ray. Inside he fought to keep the pain trapped behind a wall of indifference. He refused to break at the thought of what the loss of Ray's companionship, both in bed and out, would mean. Trying to convince himself that he didn't feel more alone than he'd ever felt in his life, and that maybe his lover would at least remain in the palace. The Prince forced himself to continue writing the words that he found were breaking his heart.

He hadn't gotten far before Ray's hand descended over his and stopped him writing. He turned, a question in his eyes. His lover spent long minutes studying him before sighing, then he leaned over and kissed him, a deep passionate kiss. Ray then took the document Bodie had started and ripped it in two.

"You don't have to--" a hand to his lips stopped him, and Ray pulled him into his arms. They shared a tender kiss and stood holding each other for many minutes before they began to shiver in reaction and cold. Leading the way to the bed, the green-eyed man guided Bodie down on to the mattress and stripped first himself and then his lover.

They held each other tightly, exchanging kisses for many minutes. Then they began to explore each others bodies. Ray would spend time sucking and nibbling a teat, and then Bodie would roll him over and take his own turn. The Prince was busy sucking and licking his lover's bellybutton--an area guaranteed to drive his lover wild with passion--when he felt the salve shoved against his shoulder. He smirked to himself, pleased that Ray had forgiven him.

As he sat up and took the salve, his eyes met those of his lover. The hurt and pain were still faint shadows deep within Ray's eyes. Wanting to heal his lover's pain and show him just how much he meant to him, Bodie suddenly realized what he could do.

Removing the lid to the jar, he took out a dollop of the grease and slowly warmed it between his palms. Ray licked his lips, and raised his legs as he closed his eyes. His eyes shot open again as, instead of a finger inserted into his anus as he was expecting, he felt the Prince's hands coating his cock with the ointment. Bodie was smiling at his shock. He leaned over and kissed his love, his tongue teasing lips and teeth, before he grabbed Ray's shoulders and pulled and twisted, until he was lying on the bottom and the green-eyed man was on top looking down at him with a rather bemused expression.

"Try to take it easy, my love. No one's ever had me before," the Prince cautioned, stroking Ray's cheek, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice and the shake out of his hand. He was nervous--he'd vowed to himself that no one would ever have his arse, but suddenly his pledge meant much less than showing his lover what their relationship meant to him.

Bodie watched as Ray retrieved the salve, and he felt first one, then two, and finally three fingers gently stretch and prepare him. His lover reached under his knees and raised the Prince's legs over his shoulders; the supine body now opened for deep penetration. Slowly, and ever so gently, Ray eased himself into his prince; soon his cock was buried deep in his lover's body and Bodie gave himself to him willingly.

The Prince found the pain to be minimal and the pleasure to be extreme. His legs slipped off Ray's shoulders and down around his arms, and he used them to clutch at his lover and pull him in tighter with each stroke.

"Yes, sunshine. Yeah. That's it...that's right. Harder.... I said harder, damnit, I'm no fuck'n maid!" Bodie opened his eyes briefly to see a smug smile on his lover's face. "Don't look so damn pleased with yerself. You've not made me scream yet."

At that challenge, Ray grabbed his cock and began to milk it in time with his thrusts.

Bodie shouted, "Ahhhh!" and arched up into one final thrust as they both released their seed. Moments later, staring deep into each other's eyes, a silent vow was said. No matter what the appearance before the world, in bed they were both free men--partners and equals.

"Mary wants to meet you," Bodie casually informed Ray one morning a few days later.

Turning startled eyes to look at his lover as he dressed for the day, Ray pointed at his ring finger and then at Bodie.

"Yes, that Mary. My wife." Trying to appear casual the Prince failed miserably. If she made a stink with her father, who was here on a visit, he could force him to, at the very least, cast Ray out of his bed. Lodon couldn't afford trouble to the north and as much as he cared for his lover the Prince couldn't risk his whole kingdom just to keep Ray in his bed. He vowed that if Melgrain forced the issue he'd do as he required but it'd only be temporary until the trouble with Willus and Orienta was settled. Then fuck the damn treaty he'd have Ray back by his side and in his bed.

Ray nudged his side, aware that his lover had been daydreaming. He pointed again to his ear.

"Murph probably told her. Some of his lands lie along the border and they've known each other since childhood. He wouldn't give us away deliberately but, well...." Bodie sighed and turned away from Ray to pull the drapes back from the window and stare out at the cold grey day.

A sharp tap on his desk from Ray encouraged him to continue. "The irony in all this and the reason that Lord Murphy hasn't been hanging around much of late--he was my best mate before and spent most of his time here at Fairdale--is that he's in love with Mary. Think she loves him, too, but the need for an heir to tie our kingdoms together...." Bodie shrugged leaving the rest unsaid. Ray was well versed enough in the politics of the day to realize that Murphy was not of high enough rank to protect the succession of the throne of Melgrain. Only a child of Prince Bodie's and Princess Mary could do that, and even then.... Well Willus's rise to the Orienta throne was full of accidents and conspiracies. Bodie'd have to stay on his guard until the succession was secure.

Coming up behind the brooding Prince and pulling him back into his arms, Ray held him close nipping and kissing along his neck. Bodie turned his head and they shared a deep kiss before parting.

"No time like the present," the Prince gestured for Ray to go ahead of him out the door. "Her chambers are at the far end of the south hall. Much warmer and closer to the kitchens. Take a right here and then up the stairs and to the left," Bodie directed as they walked along. They were soon at the Princess' apartments. Bodie took a deep breath before knocking and entered when given permission. They were greeted by the Princess' childhood nurse, Nurse Hazel.

"Ah, Prince William," Bodie grimaced at the address and caught Ray's brief smile at his discomfort. He wrinkled his nose back at his lover. Nurse Hazel, either didn't see or chose to ignore the byplay between the two men, "The Princess is expecting you. Go right in but please do your best not to upset her and if she appears tired leave immediately. She's had a hard few days."

The men nodded and knocking entered the inner chamber. Bodie had allowed Ray to go first--a concession on his part in their private times to demonstrate that he viewed them as equals rather than master and servant. In the public rooms and before others he led and Ray followed, but in private Bodie insisted that Ray lead. He was so nervous now that he slipped into their more private personas. Ray must have been nervous, as well, because he didn't remind Bodie that as Prince he should go first.

The Princess's eyes met his first over Ray's shoulder. He watched as her look turned to Ray and studied him. Bodie was puzzled by the widening of her eyes when she reached his face--almost as if in recognition. 'Had they met before?' Bodie wondered.

For once she spoke first. "So this is Murphy's birthday present to you?" She gave Ray a warm smile and held out her hand. "Colin always did have a fine eye for beauty. Of course he only let me see his skill at choosing horse flesh. I see he's even better at selecting companions."

Ray looked a bit befuddled as he took the Princess's hand and held it to his lips, his eyes darting from Bodie to Mary and back again. The young princess was only in her seventeenth year but she was very poised and self possessed for one so young. She was of slight build and had long flowing honey gold locks that were pulled up into a four strand braid that circled her head. Her face was very pale--even more so than the Prince, whose complexion was fair for his people. Princess Mary sat propped up on pillows in the bed. Being somewhere in her fifth month her stomach was slightly distended, on one so slight and frail it was obvious that carrying a child was becoming a strain on her already weakened body. Still her eyes held courage and determination and her face a welcoming smile for her husband and his lover.

Mary patted the bed beside her and said, "Come and sit down and let's chat, Ray--"

Bodie hastened to explain, "Ray doesn't speak--"

"I'm aware of that, William. But Murphy was quite indignant the other day about how well he seemed able to communicate with you, because when he traveled with him he might as well have been a block of wood. Seemed to take it as a personal insult that Ray didn't deign to converse with him."

Seeing the smile that slid across the slave's lips before he could mask it Mary poked him in the ribs, "Irritated with him, were you? Not with my husband, I see." She clasped Ray's hand as he sat beside her and leaned in confidentially to whisper--deliberately loud enough for Bodie to hear, "I'm not surprised. William could charm the undergarments off the High Priestess if he put his mind to it."

Ray's eyes widened as Bodie blushed, he appeared to be choking for a few seconds before his breath exploded in a deep throaty laugh. The Prince's face became a darker red. Princess Mary sat back smiling, as she watched the two men share a look.

"Father brought me several new poetry books. Go sit down and give them a gander while Ray and I chat. I'm sure we'll be able to communicate."

Bodie sat down, picking up the books that she had indicated and attempted to peruse them. His attention kept drifting to the couple on the bed. After a few minutes of Mary's whispering--this time to low for him to hear--Ray suddenly sat up stiffly and started to get up. The Princess's hand, which had never left his, held him fast. He caught them both casting him a look then as he pretended to read. He heard the phrase 'you look like your sister' and 'don't worry....' Ray gestured emphatically at several points and at one point Mary acquired a smug smile and he heard her say to his lover, "Tell Sinead that she's in for a treat. Once you get him to relax he's a great lover." It was at that point that he decided he wanted to know what the hell they were talking about and started to rise.

Before he could say anything there was a sharp knock on the chamber door and King Errol burst in. It was obvious that he was very angry.

He gave no one a chance to speak, "How dare you bring that whore into--"

"Father!" Mary's voice was loud and firm, stopping the King's tirade. They glared at each other, Ray tried to slip away but the Princess's hand held him firmly.

While her body might be weak her spirit was strong. Mary broke the silence, "I'm not supposed to be upset and you're upsetting me. So you can either sit down and listen or leave."

The King glared but while he didn't sit down, he did shut up allowing his daughter to continue. He glared first at the slave and then at the Prince. Mary spoke before he could, "I asked William to bring Ray to meet me. Colin had been talking about his birthday present and I wanted to meet him, to see for myself what he's like. As you can see he's beautiful and I assure you quite charming."

"And will that charm keep him from murdering your child after you're gone?" the King asked angrily.

Ray rose up but Mary wouldn't let him go. She spoke to him first, "I'm sorry for my father's attitude. We lost a dearly loved aunt and uncle and two young cousins in Willus's machinations to acquire the throne. A band of raiders out of Lodon supposedly attacked their estates and murdered them."

William was horrified and furious all at once, "There are no raiders given sanctuary here."

The King answered, "I'm well aware of that. Your father and I had many differences over the years but he would not shelter, nor support men who would commit such atrocities. It was after word of the attack reached me, and the Usurper," the King could not keep his distaste and disgust for King Willus from his voice, he continued, "tried to make it appear that Lodon was responsible, that I approached your father for the marriage treaty. I'm only too aware that of all the kingdoms on this isle Willus's best claim is to my throne. I'll not see my people under him if I can help it."

"Nor will I," the Princess added her voice to her father's. "I was not coerced into this marriage or pregnancy, William. I did it because it was the best of the options available." She stared hard at her husband and then returned her attention to her father.

"Ray is no threat to my child. If it lives, he will guard it. A man who would sell himself to protect his sister's honor is worthy of respect and you will treat him as such, father, or you can return home right now because I intend to have Ray visit me as often as possible."

Ray, who had been glaring at the king, swiveled around in surprise as the voices of the Prince and King echoed....

"You do?" Bodie. "What?" Errol.

Mary smiled. "He's quite charming and I'm sure that I can persuade him to play several of the board games that William finds so taxing." Bodie heard her whisper to Ray, "Your sister said that you're very good at them and that you two would spend hours playing."

The Prince watched his lover wink at his wife and suddenly felt left out. Seeing his sudden scowl and guessing his reason, Ray bowed over the Princess's hand kissing the back gently, before pulling away and going to stand to the side and slightly behind his lover, allowing his body to brush up against the Prince.

Seeing their closeness Mary smiled and turned back to her father, "You won't interfere between Ray and William." At the glare the King gave her she said, "I want your word. I know your fears and I understand them but William needs someone. A companion to stand at his side." She struggled to find the words, speaking of things she'd never before admitted to her father.

"Father, it's so lonely being a royal child. Try and understand, since my illness forced me to return home from school there was only Murphy, and he only rarely, to treat me as an equal who I could talk to and trust. That damn treaty has cut William off from all who might give him comfort and companionship--something I'm unable to do because of my physical condition, not to mention our differing temperaments--if he wants Ray then leave them be. Ray fulfills the letter of the treaty and anyways," here she paused and looked hard at Ray, "If he wanted a throne it wouldn't be Melgrain's or Lodon's."

At the King's continued silence the Princess pressed, "Your word, Father."

The king nodded, "As long as he poses no threat to my grandchild I'll leave them be."

Bodie and Ray finally relaxed. The worst was over. Although the Prince was a bit resentful that he was going to have to share Ray.

Seeing his pout Mary smiled at them and said, "Don't worry, I promise not to monopolize him more than an hour every couple of days."

Seeing that the storm had passed Nurse Hazel entered saying, "You've warn the wee lass out. It's time for her lunch and then she needs to sleep."

The scullery followed behind and set a tray down on a table by the bed. Ray took one look at it and began to gesture in complaint. He strode back to the princess, sitting beside her again grasped her chin and used one finger to pull the skin beneath her eye out so he could check it. Shaking his head he waved at the tray motioning for them to take it away.

"What's he doing?" The king was becoming angry.

The Prince tried to explain, "His mother's a mid-wife. One of the best. He obviously thinks that this is not a proper diet."

Nurse Hazel was indignant, "Beef broth and bread have been good enough these seventeen years I've been tending to Miss Mary--"

Ray waved his hands, then patted his belly, he turned to Bodie and mouthed one word, 'meat'. The Prince had got so that he could read his lover's lips and spoke to the nurse his eyes still on the slave, "Ray says she needs meat." Ray glanced around him and grabbed at the King's robes, mouthing another word. Bodie nodded, "Red meat."

"It's too hard on her--" Ray turned and glared and patted his belly again.

Mary spoke, "His mother's reputation is known even in our lands, Mother Hazel. He might not know my needs but if he's learned from his mother he'll know the baby's." She smiled at Ray and he nodded, "Go tell Nurse what I need to help my baby. I'll do my best to eat it." Green eyes smiled at her and he squeezed her hand before rising and going over to her nurse and the scullery maid.

Bodie followed him and interpreted for the first few minutes but as the women began to catch on to Ray's gestures he wondered back towards the bed and eavesdropped on the Princess's conversation with her father.

"I don't like this, child. We know nothing of this man."

"He's a good man. I might not be able to get up and around but Hazel's sister has been in the palace for many years and she keeps us up on castle doings. Even though a slave should be at the bottom of the hierarchy--and at first he was--all the servants look up to him now."

"That's because of the Prince's obvious favors. I mean look at how William clothes him, his clothes are of as good a make as his owner's. It would be foolish--"

"No they respected him long before that. He was always kind and courteous to those who he dealt with. Except for a few bullies who he apparently stood up to long before anyone realized that he'd found William's favor. They used to terrorize both the kitchen staff and the stables whenever the stewards were busy elsewhere. One was forcing his attentions on poor Isabel--that little mouse of a creature that cleans in here on occasion--Ray fought him and made sure that Marsden was aware of what he'd been up to. He's been sent to the outlying farms and another let go for thieving all at Ray's behest. And this all occurred before his fortunes changed."

"So he's decided to set himself up as head of the staff--"

"But that's just it, he hasn't. He spends his time with William and only gets involved if someone's in trouble. They come to him, he has the reputation of a good listener--"

"Well he can't do much else--"

"Please, father, would you listen and not argue. Ray doesn't put himself above any of the others. He listens, helps when he can, and even when it became apparent that he'd found favor with William he didn't change in his treatment of those around him. They respect him and trust him. It was you who taught me to judge a man not by how he treats his equals or betters but how he treats those of lesser rank. Ray treats them all with compassion and respect and in return they admire and trust him. He's a good man and I'm glad that William has him. Colin was wise in his choice of gifts."

Bodie wandered away then and allowed his attention to drift back to Ray and the nurse. They appeared to be done, he decided that it was time to leave, he'd had enough for the day and what he'd learned both about Ray and his wife would give him much to think about over the coming weeks. There was much more to both than he'd previously realized.

"Mary, your Highness, I think it's time that we leave you. You need some food and rest and I've got several appointments this afternoon." Bodie took her hand and kissed the back, nodding his head slightly at her and the King he turned and calling Ray to him they left the room.

The sharp indignant look that his lover gave him as they left the room, caused Bodie to pause. It didn't take him long to realize why his companion was upset.

Not breaking his stride he said. "I'm sorry, Ray. I should have asked if you were done.... It's just that this whole situation...." His voice drifted off and he moved his hands sharply throwing them up in a downsized version of surrender. Speeding up his pace as if he could out run the unpleasantness he continued, "I hate everything about this, and despise Willus for bring us to this." Pain and anguish tainted his voice, "She's going to die to produce an heir, and it shouldn't have to be that way. I can't argue with the need but if that bastard...."

A hand on his arm brought him to a stop. He turned to face Ray and the slave put his hand first over his own heart then over Bodie's, then his arms took the Prince into an embrace and held him tight for several heart beats. Finally, allowing his body to relax and accept the comfort of Ray's love, he quietly whispered the truth into a curl covered ear.

"I've never admitted to anyone how much I hate this and how scared I am that I'm not going to be able to fill my father's shoes and keep both the kingdoms safe and prosperous." Pulling back just a little so that he and Ray could look at each other he released his fears to words, "What if I fail? So many will suffer."

Ray pulled away enough so that he could bring a fist to his chest and then point at the Prince. No words could be said but Bodie heard the meaning nonetheless, 'I'm with you.'

Pulling his lover to him and whispering in his ear again, "You're the best thing that's come out of this for me." Bodie nipped and gently nuzzled at the earlobe, "Don't ever forget that, my love." Ray turned his face and their lips met in a long comforting kiss.

Embarrassed by his weakness, the Prince pulled away and began to talk about his itinerary for the rest of the day. Ray just smiled and put his arm through Bodie's and they strolled down the hall, each understanding the other a bit better.

It was on a morning three weeks later, while Ray was sequestered with the Princess playing the board games they both so loved, that news came that war was upon the land. Willus had finally made his move. A council of war was called and Bodie sent word that Ray was to join him as soon as he left the Princess's side. He'd contemplated sending for him immediately but Mary needed calm and summoning Ray would alert her to the trouble before it was necessary and before they had a plan of attack. So they met in the council chambers, with the Prince hoping that his most trusted advisor wouldn't be more than a half hour.

They were still trying to get the facts, Murphy was quizzing the captain that had come with the news of Willus' attack.

"So, do you think he had discovered the spies and that provoked the attack?" Lord Murphy still felt that Bodie's aggressive approach was most likely to blame for the King of Orienta's actions.

"No, milord. In fact we're sure that he hasn't because it was their intelligence that warned us that a raiding party was on the move. If we'd done as originally planned, with only watchers on this side of the river and a small support force, our border outpost would have been wiped out with this attack and his troop--which is following about five days march behind--would be well into our lands before the warning had been given. We'd be meeting him on the Monarch Plains with our land and farms suffering the brunt of the destruction."

The captain began to pace, his anxiety clear. He turned and spoke to Prince Bodie, "I don't know how you knew of that secret pass and the watch point but it saved all our lives and has allowed me to come to warn of the attack. If you can gather a force and we can move within two days we'll still be able to meet Orienta's forces on their side of the river--"

"But that will look like we started the invasion," Councilor Stuart interrupted.

Captain Zuck looked angry and spoke sharply, "Would you rather have our lands destroyed and our people killed! Willus is marching with a troop of a few hundred men straight towards our borders--our spies couldn't get close enough to be more exact without risking getting caught and it was more important to warn us than get correct numbers. Hopefully, when we reach the border the birds will have brought more details from our watchers." No one but Bodie noticed Ray slip into the room and sit down on a stool by the throne. The angry soldier continued, "He's headed straight for the ford at Chrisp's Fork and his raiding party attacked our watchpost. What more proof do you want?"

He turned and bowed towards the Prince. "If it hadn't been for Prince Bodie's plans and knowledge we'd have no warning. If we wait 'til they are on our lands or even attempting to cross at the ford we'll loose much of the advantage we've been given. We must move now!"

And so the debate was joined. Murphy watched and waited. Ray seemed oblivious to the dispute, in fact, Murphy realized that he made every effort to appear to be no more than a pet to amuse the Prince. But every now and then, when something appeared to strike him he'd lean into Bodie's leg and a few times the pencil he was drawing with seemed to take on more direction and Bodie would casually watch over his shoulder. Soon afterward a new bit of detail or information would be given by the Prince. Lord Murphy decided that he would give much to see that drawing pad and what was drawn on the current page.

He debated bringing Ray's influence out into the open but thought better of it. By now he was well aware that it had been the slave's knowledge of the southern borders and Orienta and it's ruler that had proved so successful a first line of defense. And ultimately he realized that he trusted Mary's judgement and she trusted Ray absolutely. In the weeks since he'd been introduced to her, the slave had been a regular visitor to her chamber. They played games and he was able to make her forget how ill she felt for a time. Bodie'd even been a more frequent visitor--he'd bet that he had Ray to thank for that, as well. The Prince normally tried to avoid unpleasant duties, and watching his wife's health decline fell right at the top of the list.

There was more to the green-eyed enchanter than met the eye and Murphy suspected that the Princess, more than even Bodie, knew what it was; but whatever secret they shared she trusted him and to Colin's knowledge she'd never been wrong. So he would trust the slave as well. But he vowed that he would also watch and wait and protect his friend with his life if the need arose.

Two hours later the Prince had made up his mind and would not waver in his decision. They would leave on the morrow and meet Willus and his troop on Orienta's soil--regardless of how it might look to other kingdoms. Prudence and clever planning had given them the advantage and he would not sacrifice it, no matter what the appearance before others would be. If there was a price to pay for boldness then he prayed that he would be around to settle up later.

Bodie was involved in planning late into the night and it was only when he arrived at his chambers well after eleven that he realized that Ray had slipped away earlier and why. Fear clutched at his gut and he lost his temper at what he saw upon entering.

"No! Absolutely not!" He raged at his lover.

Ray sat calmly on a trunk, his arms crossed across his chest, his legs stretched out in front of him. He made no move but a stubborn determination was in his eyes.

"I won't have it! You belong to me and I'll order you to--" Seeing the angry look in his lover's eye he broke off and tried another tack, "Damn it, I won't have you put at risk. That's it." Ray stood, picked up the pack that was sitting at his feet and moved it to sit with Bodie's luggage over by the door. He then turned to Bodie, pointed to himself then to Bodie, then at himself again and then pointed outside.

"You're saying that you either go with me or you go, period. Right?"

Ray nodded, determined. Bodie contemplated having him locked in the dungeon to await his return but knew that he'd lose him as a lover if he did that and also that if Lodon's forces should lose that would leave Ray at the mercy of Willus' men when they took the castle. He couldn't risk that...the treatment a slave would receive. It made him shudder at the thought. No. He wouldn't...couldn't, do that to his lover.

"Ray, please. I don't want--"

Before he could say more Ray had moved to take him in his arms and held him fast against him, kissing his cheek, his ear, running his hand through Bodie's soft silky hair. Pulling back slightly he touched over his heart then over Bodie's--using the motions that had come to mean love. Bodie sighed, giving in.

"If you come you have to promise to not fight in the battle." Ray looked about to argue so Bodie said, "It's against our laws for slaves to be forced to fight--" At the fist that his lover slammed into his own chest, Bodie chuckled.

"Easy, sunshine. I know you're not being forced but slaves are not allowed to fight--think a minute. How would we ever know if a slave was fighting because he wanted to or because he feared what his master might do to him if he didn't. No, it's a good law and one I won't break."

Holding up his wrists to expose the bands and drawing the golden neck chain out from beneath his shirt--these the symbols of his slavery status--he indicated their removal.

"Won't work. Even if I freed you and ignoring all the problems we'd have with Errol when we get back from this battle--despite Mary's acceptance he's none too happy about your presence--you'd not be allowed to fight."

Seeing his lover's stubborn look, "Reflect for a minute. I've seen you move and on occasion fight--you've got quite a reputation in the servants hall, by the way, as a man not to cross and it doesn't have a bloody thing to do with the fact that you're my lover--and with your knowledge of tactics I'd just bet you're a damn good soldier. But you've never fought with my troop, not even trained with them. They don't know you and you don't know them or their tactics and even beside me you'd be more of a liability than a help. I'd be too busy worrying about you and your safety and how you'd move and the defense you'd take. It just wouldn't work. If you want, if...when, we get back, then you can train with my troop but until then you stay off the battlefield."

His lover looked at him with frustration and anger but eventually nodded. Bodie's logic was irrefutable and Ray was obviously knowledgeable enough to realize it. His fist again came up to hit his chest and then point at the Prince.

Bodie nodded, realizing that he'd have to give a little, as well, "All right, you can come along if you accept those terms but when the battle comes you remain at the base camp."

His lover neither agreed nor disagreed but took him again into his arms and after a passionate kiss drew back and led the Prince over to their bed.

They took their time, both wanting it to last as long as possible but finally the ache too great, the need too desperate, Bodie begged, "Fuck me, I want you, need you."

When no salve was applied and no cock entered his body, blue eyes opened in question. At his lover's imitation of riding a horse Bodie let out a laugh, "Might have a point there. So what do you suggest?"

Ray's lascivious look and the tongue that came out to rim his mouth made his lover shiver with anticipation. 'Yes that would do just fine,' Bodie smiled to himself as they sifted around to take each other into their respective mouths.

The journey south was accomplished with stealth and speed, and it was four days later that they were camped on the Vassal Plains. Willus' troops were close by--having arrived just before dark--they would meet in battle on the morn.

Bodie had met with his captains, returned to his tent, and made passionate love to Ray, both men knowing that it could be their last time. As they lay snuggled together on the edge of sleep, a sudden thought made the Prince sit up and pull the simple, silver chain he wore over his head, handing it and a purse recovered from his bedside pack to his lover with a sheepish expression.

"This is the key to your bonds and money to help you get by. Get your mom and sister and head to DeLorne or beyond if the battle goes badly tomorrow. I've instructed Murphy and a few of my more trusted captains that you are to be set free if anything happens to me." Seeing the look of fear and protest on his lover's face Bodie pulled him close for another kiss.

Gently whispering into Ray's ear he said, "From this moment on you are a free man. If it goes well and you chose to stay with me and return it will be your choice. But between us we are equals." They shared a long passionate kiss before the Prince pulled back to whisper in his lover's ear, "Know always that I love you."

Ray nodded, kissed his love and opened his mouth as if to speak. He stopped, kissed Bodie again and they laid down, snuggled up and fell asleep, both dreading the morning.

Bodie had left Ray an hour before dawn. They'd met Willus' troops at first light and now two hours into the conflict the encounter was going well for the Prince and Lodon's troops.

Bodie forged ahead seeing a break in their line and hoping to capitalize on it. The sword his wife had given him had turned out to be a significant asset in battle. It was more easily maneuvered and didn't wear down his strength like a normal sword. As he led another attack deep into the enemy's lines he realized that he'd been cut off from his men and that his two remaining guards had been unhorsed. He became aware that he'd been lured into a trap. It was a victory without honor but then Willus had never had any honor.

As he fought towards his men, he felt his horse slip on the ground, sodden first with dew and now with the blood of men. He swung his sword and cut deep into an attacker, then pulled back and thrust into the body of another, but no matter how hard he fought, Willus had planned well and he was cut off and outnumbered--his men would not be able to reach him in time. Still, he was determined to take as many with him as possible.

Finally he was unhorsed, and three of Willus' personal guard moved against him. He spared one last thought for Ray and their love as he made his last stand, the stench of death surrounding him. One guard he managed to knock down, another stumbled when he kicked out, but the third brought his sword up and as it began it's downstroke Bodie struggled futilely to free his sword from the body just pierced and raise it in defense. But before the deadly blade could reach him, Bodie heard a soft whoosh, followed by a thud as the guard attacking him was struck through the heart with an arrow. Then a second and third arrow thudded swiftly into any enemy standing near the Prince. Regaining his feet Bodie was able to cut down another attacker and the mysterious archer who was guarding his back took out another. By that time Murphy had broken through Orienta's lines and his guard was now protecting the Prince as he remounted his horse and the battle continued.

Sparing a glance over his shoulder as he used his forearm to wipe the blood from his face, Bodie looked for the archer, but could see neither archer nor perch from which the arrows could have been loosed. A stand of trees at the edge of the field was the only cover but it was a good piece away and before he could investigate further the fighting intensified around him and he rejoined the battle. After that the tide was firmly in Lodon's favor--Willus showing his cowardice by removing himself from the battlefield when his plan failed and defeat approached--and soon Orienta's troops were in retreat. Bodie experienced a few more close calls but any enemy who attempted to take the Prince from behind met the same fate as the others--an arrow stopped them dead.

The battle won Bodie sent squads out to hunt down and kill or capture as many of the enemy as possible. Unfortunately, Willus was long away back to his castle. Lodon's forces, though strong were not sufficient for a extended march into enemy lands that would cumulate in a prolonged siege of Fortress Malvern, Orienta's capitol.

They delegated crews to gather up the dead of both lands--theirs to be returned home for burial, Orienta's to be burned at dusk or soon thereafter. The injured were taken back to the base camp to be tended and Bodie and Murphy met as they rode back.

"Well done, Murph. And my thanks. I owe you my life."

"Glad to be of service, but it was a damn close call. What archer did you delegate to guard your back?"

"None. I was about to ask you which of your men you'd set as watchman?"

"T'wasn't me, nor any of the captains I've talked with. I've asked around," Lord Murphy informed the Prince.

"Then who?"

"Bodie-mate, I haven't a clue."

As they rode into camp Ray looked up and he greeted his lover with a wide smile. It was all the welcome he could give at the time because he was helping the surgeon tend to a wounded man. The Prince was called to a meeting with his commanders to plan their next moves. Grabbing some ointment and bandages, and waving the leech's assistant away--there were many more seriously wounded than he--Bodie joined them as he tried to tend to a sword cut he'd taken to his forearm.

Not long after, he was joined by Ray who pushed him to sit down and took the cloths he was trying ineffectually to bind the wound with from his hand. As the Prince and his captains talked, Ray washed the cut with water just off the boil, poured a liquid on it that smelled strongly of fermented drink, thus making Bodie grunt in pain and complain loudly--Ray ignored his tirade and continued his ministrations by rubbed a healing salve on the injury before carefully dressing the wound.

Bodie tried to ignore his treatment as he concentrated on what his captains were telling him. "You mean to tell me that no one will take responsibility for saving my life, or even placing an archer on watch?"

His men were truly puzzled. They all shook their heads no. Captain Zuck summed it up, "We've all asked. No one claims to be the archer or to have given orders for one to be posted. I've investigated the stand of trees where the arrows had to have come from and there is evidence that someone climbed a couple of man lengths up into the tree in the recent past. But there is no evidence to tell who that was, or why they did it, or even that it was during the battle--"

Murphy interrupted, "It's damned obvious why they did it, they did it to loose arrows into the battle--"

"Maybe Willus had planned that as an alternate method of killing Prince Bodie," an older captain suggested.

"I might believe that--I mean it's possible that the first arrow was meant for me and hit the guard by mistake--but by my count the assassin killed at least eight men and wounded another four, everyone of which was attempting to attack me when I was down or from behind. No, whoever it was was no killer after my hide."

"And one of the finest marksmen I've ever heard of," Murphy added.

Before they could continue speculating, a soldier and his troop leader approached. The soldier carried a quiver and bow.

"So, Warden, you've found our mystery archer." Bodie greeted the two men.

"No, your Highness. Just the source of the bow and arrows. Go ahead, James, report to the Prince."

Bodie nodded for the man to speak.

"This morning when I prepared for battle I found that my bow and quiver was missing from my pack. I doubted that I'd have occasion to use it so I didn't search very hard. I assumed that someone had mistakenly picked them up to place in with the other unneeded equipment. Then tonight, when I returned from hunting down some of the enemy, I found my bow and quiver back where I'd camped last night with all but three of the arrows gone. I'd heard talk of a mysterious archer and reported my discovery to my commander immediately, he brought me here to inform you." The man squirmed under Bodie's intense scrutiny. "I don't know what the archer did, your highness, but I don't want to take blame."

"You're from the castle guard, are you not? You rode out with us?"

"Yes, sire."

"And you have no knowledge as to who would use your weapons?"

"No. But--" the frightened man stopped, afraid to go on.

"Don't be anxious. Speak," the Prince encouraged.

"My bow and two dozen arrows belonged to my father. They are some of the finest in the land. A skilled archer would recognize that and most likely that's the reason my weapons were chosen."

"I see. Very well. Dismissed." The man turned to go, Bodie called to him, "See the weapons master when you get back to the castle and he will replace your arrows with the finest we have. They did me a service today and I wish you to suffer no loss."

The soldier bowed and hurried away, he was anxious to ask around and find out what the Prince had meant. Bodie turned to his warden and asked, "I assume that you've eliminated the possibility that he was the archer and for some reason is refusing credit."

"Aye, milord. I saw one of the arrows hit it's mark and he was by my side at the time. He couldn't have loosed it. He also mentioned that they'd disappeared this morning as we rode to battle, he wanted them to go to his son should he not survive the day. I assured him that I'd look into it when the day was over."

"Very good. Well, gentlemen, it seems I have a guardian angel who wishes to remain anonymous, and who is also an incredible marksman. A reward will be given him if he ever chooses to come forth. In the mean time let's discuss our plans for the morrow."

Ray having finished tending to his wound got up to leave. Bodie's hand shot out to grasp his forearm and stop him from departing. A corner of the Prince's mind noticed his lover's flinch of pain and wondered about it but he was soon distracted. He pulled Ray close and whispered instructions for him to join him in their tent after the funeral pyre had been lit. Ray nodded and left to tend the injured.

Their loving that night was subdued but fervent. The smells and sounds of death that surrounded them, and the all consuming funeral pyre, brought home to both men how close a day they'd had. They cherished each other and Bodie buried himself deeply in his love. A celebration of life and a release of the day's tensions.

As he was falling asleep he cuddled up close to his lover and grasped his forearm again unthinkingly. Ray flinched and pulled away from the touch. Lighting the beside tallow the Prince turned it so that he could view the hurt. He raised an eyebrow in question. Ray shrugged and motioned around.

Blowing out the light, Bodie snuggled up close to his lover again, being careful not to touch the tender arm. Whispering, "Take more care, my love," the Prince kissed the bruise and drifted off into sleep, before the nagging memory that there was something familiar about that type of injury could take a firm hold in his tired mind.

Battles go swiftly, the clean up and execution of defense plans, take longer. It was three days before all the injured were treated and the dead recovered and sent home to their families for burial. The ride back took longer but finally, less than two weeks after their departure they returned home, victorious. Prince William Bodie had now gained the respect of his soldiers and advisors; he was no longer regarded as an untried youth. He mused to Ray that it was funny that he could have led so many scouting parties and skirmishes; sat at his father's war table and offered advice and council but it was all for naught until his father was gone and he'd again proven his skill as a leader.

Ray just smiled and indicated that that was the way of things. Bodie pulled him close for more loving and whispered words of thanks for his support and advice.

They were tired on the evening of their return and didn't chat much as they made their way back to the Kings chambers. Bodie was thinking about taking the morrow off and spending it--after a brief visit to his wife--with Ray alone in their chambers. 'It would be good to love on a bed again.'

Taken off guard he was shoved away from the wall by Ray as they passed a set of heavily draped windows. Turning to complain he was quick into action, his lover had deflected a knife blow meant for him and was now locked in combat with the assassin. Another three men appeared out from behind the drapes and the fight became intense and dirty. Bodie took out the first one to reach him, and saw the man struggling with Ray collapse as a knife was pulled out of his gut.

Bodie thanked his own insistence on Ray carrying a knife after the incident with Paulie. His second attacker was soon upon him and Bodie could spare no more attention for his lover, other than to hope that his reputation as a skilled fighter was well deserved. The man had a short sword and Bodie used his cape to tangle it within the folds and pull the man forward off balance. The trick worked and the knife Bodie welded in his other hand soon struck home. The man was dead before he hit the stones. The prince stared down at the man in disgust, 'Not skilled assassins then, but amateurs counting on the element of surprise. They'd have succeeded too if not for Ray,' the Prince was chagrined to admit.

Remembering the fourth man Bodie turned to see how his lover fared. Ray and the man were circling and as Bodie stepped forward Ray gestured for him to keep back. 'What the hell's he playing at,' the Prince thought in angry frustration. It was obvious that the last assassin was no match for Ray yet his lover didn't move in for the kill.

"Kill him and be done, damn it! Don't risk yourself." Bodie's voice carried anger and frustration.

The final man distracted and scared to realize that it was now two to one--and one was a rather blood thirsty prince--dropped his guard and Ray made his move. But rather than killing the man, the slighter man dropped the assassin to the ground, flat on his back and brought his knife up to cut at the man's groin. The sharp knife sliced easily through the material to draw a few faint drops of blood. Ray brought his other hand sharply to his own mouth and Bodie suddenly realized what his lover had been up to. The smile he turned on their captive did not reach his eyes.

"You tried to kill me and my mate here. I don't like that...don't like that at all." The Prince shook his head back and forth, "But my mate here. He's not going to kill you if you don't talk, he's going to cut your balls off one at a time before we give you to a whore house to be of some use." The man's eyes widened with fear and doubt.

"I'll do it if Ray doesn't but somehow I think that Ray'd be more than happy to take care of you. So talk. Who hired you and what were your orders?"


Bodie almost growled, "That bastard!"

Ray motioned over to the body of the first man he'd killed. 'Well that's one down, lover,' Bodie thought. He exchanged a satisfied look with his friend before returning to the interrogation.

"So, traitors don't appreciate mercy. Go on?"

"He deserted his post up north and offered his services for hire. King Willus hired us as back up. If by some chance you won the battle we were to catch you immediately upon your return and kill you."

"And he didn't think King Errol or King Doyle would protest?"

"King Errol's too old, his kingdom too small and he has no strong heir. As for old King Doyle he's dead, along with his murdering wife and step-son." Ray's knife dug sharply into the man's groin at this news causing him to cry out in pain as blood began to seep from the cut he'd just made.

Bodie's hand came down to rest on Ray's shoulder. "Easy, sunshine, we need him to talk and tell us what he knows." Ray nodded but he was coiled as tense as his lover had ever seen him, Bodie could feel the waves of anger radiating out from him, scorching everything near. He nodded for the man to continue.

"A bit more detail about DeLorne, if you please," the Prince's request was all smooth steel.

"Queen Monique has always wanted her son on the throne. She drove off the daughter-in-law and her children years ago. Most think she arranged for them to meet an accident so that the rightful heir, young Doyle, would not be around to claim the throne. Then she bided her time, but although King Doyle was besotted with her, he was never so much so that he'd name her son as successor to the crown over his grandson. Eventually she must a got tired of waiting and made a pact with Willus. So he helped her poison the old man and clear the way for Duke Bernard to take the throne.

"Stupid bitch hadn't counted on Willus' treachery though. He betrayed her as soon as King Doyle was dead. Her and her bastard son were beheaded last month after a trial."

"How come we've heard none of this?" Bodie was skeptical.

"Because Lord Councilor Cowley is doing his best to keep it quiet while he searches for the old king's daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Guess King Willus thought he had that situation well in hand so that he could make a move on you. Swift and lethal that's his style. Let them stew in DeLorne without a proper heir--maybe some of the nobles knock each other off, do the work for him. In the meantime Lodon would be easy pickings...."

"Not so easy now--are we? Come on Ray, let him up. I want him to testify before the council and then we'll have to double the guard. I wouldn't put it past that bastard to try again." They led their captive back to the main hall and arranged for the council to be summoned and the bodies to be removed for disposal.

After that things went fast and furiously, with debates long into the night. It was only as dawn approached that Bodie realized that Ray had slipped away. 'Must have been exhausted. Sleep well, sunshine.'

Twenty-four hours later the Prince realized that Ray was gone. He'd gone back to his chambers and collapsed around mid morning. Ray's absence bothered him but he assumed that Ray was busy helping Marsden with many of the tasks that had long been neglected as the castle had prepared for war. By night fall Bodie had summoned his valet, and notes compared, realized that no one had seen his lover since the previous night when he'd delivered the last assassin to the council meeting. A search was instituted--the Prince desperate with worry--but no trace could be found.

It was upon returning to his rooms late that night--expecting any minute for a ransom demand to arrive from Willus--that he discovered Ray's neck and wrist bands put safely away in a compartment of his clothes chest. A quick search revealed that Ray's traveling clothes and cloak were missing along with his pack. He'd not even had the chance to unpack it. Bodie stormed, he raged, he hurt.... 'Why would he leave now? What's he up to? Damn you, Ray. Damn you to hell!'

Over the next couple of weeks the Prince was manic with plans. He sent for King Errol to witness the testimony of the failed assassin and met for hours on end with his council to determine what to do about Willus. The testimony of one man was not enough to band together all the nearby kingdoms to act. Especially with several in such disarray.

Bodie was pressing for invasion and King Errol was serving as the voice of restraint. Most felt that the Prince having once tasted victory and survived an assassination attempt had become angry and vengeful. Several important voices joined his in calling for vengeance. Peace had been hard fought for and many had given their lives to achieve it and those left were angry with Willus for destroying the costly truce. Only Lord Murphy realized the real reason behind the Prince's madness.

Two days before a troop was due to march towards Orienta he accosted Bodie in his study. "This won't bring Ray back."

Bodie glared up from the map he was studying but said nothing.

"Look, Bodie, killing Willus will cost hundreds of lives and Ray'll still be dead."

The Prince looked up at that in startlement, "What gave you the idea that Ray's dead?"

"Well he was hurt in the attack and he disappeared soon after. I just assumed that his injuries were more severe than was thought at first and that you were keeping his death a secret so as not to upset Mary and to keep your council from knowing the real reason for your quest for vengeance."

"Ray's alive. And he left of his own free will. He removed his slave bands and packed his bags and left."

"Don't be ridiculous. He'd never leave you willingly."

"Look, Murph, only certain parts of his gear was gone. And his bands were in his trunk. Besides myself, only Marsden would know that that was where he would be likely to store them, and I might believe in betrayal from many sides but not Marsden."

Murphy nodded his agreement here. No one could convince him that Marsden would betray the prince either. A thought occurred to him.

"How'd he get his bands off? It'd need a blacksmith."

"I gave him the key and told him he was free before the battle." Bodie stood up to pace, "Hell, I tried to free him weeks ago after that night he overheard me call him my bed whore."

"My apologies, but I was afraid of the influence he had over you."

"Yeah, well I wanted to throw you off the track but ended up hurting him instead. Once I explained about the treaty.... Well I decided to give him his freedom but he refused. He kept his bands so that he could stay at my side."

"Damn Willus and this mess. If not for that bastard I'd be married to Mary and you could pledge Ray--"

"And she wouldn't be dying trying to produce an heir to stop Willus from claiming Melgrain as his own." Running his hands through his hair Bodie collapsed on the edge of the desk.

"That still doesn't answer the question as to where Ray went," Murphy pressed.

"You think I haven't racked my brain trying to reckon where he might have gone? After Willus, to gather more information, to his mother and sister...." The Prince's anguish was clear in his voice. "And I can't even put out an alarm or even queries for anyone to report seeing him. If I do I risk bringing to Willus' notice how important he's become to me."

"So that's why you're in such a hurry to attack Willus. You think Ray might have gone after him." At Bodie's nod Murphy pointed out his fallacy, "But what could one man do against Willus? He's unlikely to be able to get too close. We don't know how many spies Orienta has here at Fairdale but he's sure to have had a few, one of which might recognize Ray. He's rather memorable after all."

"Tell me something I don't know. Why do you think I'm in such a hurry?"

"But Bodie, is it worth your life and kingdom?"

"No, of course not. Which is why we didn't march out within a day of my discovering that he'd disappeared. But we've been all over it again and again and it all comes back to we've got to finish Willus now. Before he makes any more moves on DeLorne, or Melgrain or Lodon. If we don't, none of us will ever be able to rest easy in our sleep. Hell, I've had to reinstate a food taster. I don't want to live like that but until Willus is dead...." His voice trailed off the implications clear and unfortunately unarguable.

"So we've got to move and move soon. And if hastening that slightly might save Ray.... Well a little speed is worth the price."

Murphy nodded. He didn't like it but his friend was thinking with his head first, even if he did give his heart a big voice in the timing of the decision. He could only pray that they'd be in time to save the impetuous slave, he didn't know if his sovereign and friend would be able to weather Ray's loss.

Bodie's voice retrieved him from his dark musing. "Ray may not have to get near Willus to take him out."


"The night after the battle Ray had an injured forearm. Bruised pretty bad."

"I thought you'd ordered him to stay out of the fight?"

Bodie smiled at that, "I had. And it wasn't a sword wound."

"Then what?"

"I knew I'd seen a similar injury but couldn't place where until last week as I watched the archers training. If the bow guard slips or shifts while shooting and the bowstring hits the unprotected wrist, it can do quite a bit of damage. From the look of Ray's wrist it took quite a beating on the day of battle. Probably because the equipment wasn't designed for him."

"You think he was your mysterious guardian?"

"Yeah. I think Ray took the weapon and protected my back all through the battle."

"That's some skill with a bow."

"I've never seen the like but all the facts fit."

"Why keep silent?"

"There's more to Ray than meets the eye. What, I don't know, but he's gone out of his way to be self effacing and stay in the background. At first I thought it was just for my sake but I'm beginning to wonder."

Murphy decided not to mention that the Princess might have some answers. Her health was frail and she still wasn't due for six weeks yet. As much as Bodie missed his lover he might not be gentle enough if he thought she had information that would lead him to Ray.

Lord Murphy wished he knew whether or not to rue or celebrate the day that the green-eyed enchanter had come to his notice.

Less than twenty-four hours before the troop was due to ride out, one of Bodie's spies returned from Orienta with news that threw all into chaos.

Ronald Dale, a trusted servant of the Prince, strode into the council chambers and bowed low before Bodie.

"Your highness, I have important news."

"Go ahead. What can you tell us of King Willus and Orienta. We are preparing to march out tomorrow to bring his crimes to his door."

"King Willus, and his three top advisors are dead. Assassinated in their sleep a week ago by an agent of DeLorne." Dale paused to draw a breath and take a drink. The council chamber erupted into argument and babble.

"Silence!" Bodie's voice drowned out the debate. "Proceed."

"Last Saturday a false message was received that you'd been assassinated and the King and his close circle threw a celebration. The next morn, when the servants went in to wake him, he was dead. Stabbed through the heart, along with three of his most blood thirsty advisors. By each body in candle wax was the seal of the royal house of DeLorne. And pinned to the King's body with a dagger was a death warrant for the death of Willus and his three murderous jackals--by name--and signed by the crown prince of DeLorne."

"What crown prince. I thought all of King Doyle's heir's were dead?" Murphy queried.

"So apparently did Willus, a fatal mistake it seems," Bodie observed.

"Yes, milord. No one has a clue as to how the assassin got in or out of the Fortress but he escaped."

Councilor Stuart spoke up, "Have we heard from our spies in DeLorne? There's been no mention of the rightful heir returning."

"The last news we've had is over two weeks old, but there was no sign of the rightful heir at that time," Captain Lucus responded.

The Prince turned back to Dale, "So what about it? Is Orienta preparing to go to war with DeLorne?"

"Not at the time I left. Sir Leslie will follow a few days behind me once things have fallen more into place. It's my opinion that there will be no war. Willus and his cadre removed any perceived threats to their power. Fortunately or unfortunately, if you were a member of the nobility of Orienta, that included over half the court. Many are dead, more are in hiding and the rest are indecisive cowards unwilling to make a stand. It's my belief that a move towards the throne of Orienta in a couple of months time would not be contested. It might even be welcomed. With Willus dead there's no true heir, one claim as good as another and if I remember correctly Prince Bodie is distantly related to the last rightful king."

"And what of DeLorne? I imagine that they might make a move as well, their royal family has a distant connection, too," Stuart pointed out, always direct to the heart of the matter. "What do we know of this supposed prince?"

"Very little, and nothing more recent than seven or eight seasons ago, maybe longer," Captain Casey replied. He had family in DeLorne and was considered an expert on the country and its politics. He went on to explain, "King Doyle's son, Raymond, married one of the daughters of King Jean Luc to their south. Their marriage was happy by all accounts, and produced a son and daughter."

The captain paused to take a drink before continuing, "About fifteen years ago Prince Raymond was killed in a flood and not long after his father remarried a widow, Lady Monique de Turnville, she and her son, Bernard, came to live in the castle and things became very difficult for the King's daughter-in-law and her children."

"I met Lady Monique many years ago," Councilor Lucas observed. He was a short, broad man, ten years the Prince's senior, and widely traveled. "She was very ambitious even then. Her family was not highly placed but she traded on her beauty to make a better match than was merited based on her dowry and station."

Casey nodded his agreement and then continued, "Queen Monique was jealous of Princess Margaret and her children and used every opportunity--behind the king's back--to make life a misery for them. She also worked hard to drive a wedge in between the king and his grandchildren. The girl was sent away to school and later married a noble from her mother's homeland. The boy, young Doyle, began to run wild, into everything and very hard to manage--can't really blame him the way he and his kin were being treated. Queen Monique had the King wrapped around her finger and the old fool was too besotted to see what she was up to."

"Love seems to be a common failing, even for kings," Murphy pointed out.

Bodie glared at his friend, not missing the underlying message.

"Well it definitely was in King Doyle's case," Casey agreed, not aware of the exchange between the Prince and the Lord. "After a few years, Princess Margaret accepted a marriage proposal from an Orienta noble and left the court. Rumor was that they all perished but it was never confirmed and there were simultaneous rumors that the King's councilor, Lord Cowley, had kept in touch with them. No one knew what to believe." Here the captain shrugged, "Whatever the truth no one in the court dared discuss the missing grandchildren.

"But if the Prince can be found then Raymond Doyle Delequois is the rightful heir to the throne and will be supported by Lord Councilor Cowley. From the sound of it he's decided to come out of hiding and reclaim his throne," Captain Casey concluded.

At this point Lucus turned to Dale and queried, "You're sure that the signature was valid?"

"Who knows," Dale shrugged. "I doubt, as long as Prince Doyle has been missing, that anyone could verify his signature. I am sure that the seal was made by a royal signet ring. It was too accurate and fine of detail to be a fake. So, either the Prince, or someone who knew him, wrote out the death warrants."

And the discussion progressed.... The final decision was to delay the invasion and await further news from both kingdoms.

Murphy heaved a sigh of relief, but the Prince was even more on edge. Everyone who could, avoided him, and those who couldn't, tread warily. His disposition, never the most sweet, became explosive and surly. And it soon became obvious that if he was sleeping, it wasn't much nor for long periods. He paced the halls of the castle at night and drove those around him to distraction with his penchant for working all hours. Servants and councilors alike began to droop from exhaustion at the hard pace the Prince set.

Two weeks after the news of King Willus' death had reached them, messengers finally arrived from both Orienta and DeLorne. The news from Orienta was that the nobles were in disarray and no clear leader had arisen. Given another month or two of confusion, it was judged that the kingdom would be ripe for the picking.

The news out of DeLorne was more puzzling. Prince Doyle had arrived at Carleton's Keep, DeLorne's capitol, three days after King Willus' execution. He'd met in private with Councilor Cowley and his advisors, been declared King and had a brief coronation ceremony. He'd taken care of all necessary and pressing matters and then disappeared again leaving Cowley to administer his kingdom temporarily in his stead.

Many speculated that it was a ruse by the Lord Councilor to stabilize the government but those who had seen the new king were quick to vouch that he was indeed Prince Doyle, King Doyle's grandson and rightful heir to the throne. What pressing business it was that called him away was speculated heavily on but none but the Lord Councilor had the answer. And he appeared none to pleased at the new king's swift departure.

Bodie sighed and wondered, as he went to bed that evening, how it would all come out. A message had also been received via official channels requesting that he meet with King Doyle in six weeks time at Fortress Malvern to discuss the Orienta problem and other pressing matters. He wondered what 'other pressing matters' meant and why he felt unsettled at that request. The Prince sent the messenger back with his answer of yes, seeing no sense in putting off the reckoning. If there was to be war over Orienta, best to have done with before the spring plantings and risk ruining much needed crops.

Being exhausted he fell quickly into sleep but, as was now usual for him, did not remain so for long. Stirring awake less than three hours later he awoke with a start and a sense that something was wrong. Realizing that there was someone in the bed with him he reached swiftly for the knife he kept secreted in the headboard but stopped mid-motion when a body pulled in close and a hand went unerringly to cup his cock.

Shuddering at the knowing touch his voice broke as he questioned, "Ray?"

The body pulled closer, grasping him more tightly and stroking him in just the manner designed to arouse him the swiftest. Lips nibbled at neck and ear. Pulling away enough to turn and take his lover into his arms, they shared a long kiss. It had been too long, and they were both too hot for the other, for the loving to last. A couple of gentle strokes, several long passionate kisses, two thrusts and they were coming, their seed spilling out between them.

So many questions that needed answered but Bodie was exhausted, beyond thought, only one question was truly important.

"Will you be here in the morning, Ray?"

At his lover's nod, Bodie pulled him close, put his head on Ray's furry chest and was soon fast asleep. Ray followed him scant seconds later.

The Prince had been determined to demand some answers in the morning, but he woke late, with his cock hard. He took one look at Ray sleeping on his stomach with his arse in the air and decided questions could bloody well wait.

Lord Murphy paced down the hall towards the Prince's chambers, Marsden, hurrying to keep up, by his side.

"Are you sure he's still sleeping? He hasn't slept longer than a couple of hours in over a month."

"I know, milord, but I looked in just after sunrise, surprised that he hadn't summoned me yet, and although I didn't get too close, so I couldn't see him well, I did hear him snoring." The valet shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe it's all just caught up with him. He couldn't go on as he was indefinitely."

Murphy was still not happy, "Perhaps, but he's over an hour late for the council meeting and plans need to be made." Entering Bodie's outer chamber, he found that he was reluctant to invade the bed chamber. If Bodie really was finally sleeping, he needed the rest and the meeting could wait. He'd just about decided to turn and leave when he heard a loud groan of pain and a shout of 'no'. Without thinking both men burst into the chamber, the door slamming against the wall, Murphy pulling his sword ready to defend his prince.

The Prince was flat on his back on the bed, surrounded by pillows and covers. He opened his eyes, startled, and raised up on his elbows.

"Bloody hell, Murphy! You trying to give me a heart attack?" Bodie then looked down at himself apparently addressing his navel. "I swear I'm going to have a lock put on that damned door before the day's through."

At that the covers began to shake and a strange grumble came from Bodie's stomach.

"We were worried," always willing to share the blame if it looked as though he might have erred, Murphy attempted to explain, "You're over an hour late for the council meeting and I'd decided to let you sleep anyway until...." That brought Murphy up, "I heard you shout in pain. Are you alright?"

"I'm fi.... Stop that, it tickles." His friend was again speaking to his own navel.

Murphy was slowly coming to the conclusion that Bodie had finally gone mad, when the covers erupted again and an auburn curly head appeared; the until then concealed man, slid up the bed to nestle next to the Prince. He turned and grinned at Murphy and Marsden.

Lord Murphy's reaction was crude and to the point, "Fuck!...Ray!"

The Prince's even cruder, "Not yet, but we're working up to it. If you two would care to leave that is." Bodie nodded none to subtly towards the door.

Turning beet red, both men retreated, bowing as they backed slowly towards the door. As Murphy turned to leave, Bodie called out one last set of instructions.

"Everyone's got the next two...." He paused and eyed Ray for a minute, then amended, "Make that the next four days off. No council meetings, no major projects, only the bare necessities. Oh and, Marsden, the bare necessities include food, so send a hearty breakfast up for two in about an hour."

"Yes, milord."

The servant bowed himself out, gently shutting the door on Bodie's final comment of, "Now where were we, sunshine?" The only reply was a dirty chuckle.

The next couple of weeks allowed the return of some normalcy to Fairdale Castle and Lodon. The Prince's disposition was sunny and sweet tempered, and although the threat of war still overhung the council meetings, the fact that King Willus was dead was felt to be a positive sign that peace could be achieved. Most believed that the three kingdoms had suffered enough death and unrest and that their rulers would be anxious to reach an agreement satisfactory to all.

As for where Ray had been, and what he had done, for once Bodie found it frustrating to have a mute lover. All he'd been able to get out of Ray was that it was family troubles and his mom and sister had needed him. Since Bodie had already sent a few trusted men not long after his disappearance, to inquire of Ray's family if they knew where he was, this had not been a surprise. The men had reported that Ray had shown up the day after his departure from Fairdale and packed his family up and they'd disappeared. Apparently none to soon, because less than a day later a troop of soldiers had arrived trying to find the women and were very angry to discover them gone. No one had a clue as to whose soldiers they were, only that they'd failed to find a trace of either Ray or his family.

With that explanation the Prince had had to be content, his lover either unwilling or unable to communicate more. He had extracted a promise that Ray would never disappear like that again, even if he did feel that Bodie had more than enough to worry about. Bodie had asked him what the hell he'd thought he'd been doing the last month if not sick with worry as to what was happening to his lover.

Ray had apologized rather thoroughly, leaving Bodie so sated that he couldn't move for several minutes. It was at this point that Bodie noticed that his lover was again wearing his slave bands.

Pulling himself up to prop against the headboard he flicked the neck chain around Ray's throat.

"What the hell are you doing wearing that?" Bodie was not happy, as far at he was concerned Ray was a free man and he'd not have him wearing those trappings.

His lover pointed to his belly and then grasped his wrist band.

"I don't give a damn about the treaty--"

Kissing his lover to silence him, Ray held up his thumb and forefinger very close together indicating 'little', then he pointed to the clock, meaning time.

"I don't care if it is only a little--" Bodie huffed but was silenced by a kiss.

Ray again indicated little.

"Alright. We'll wait until the baby's born. But no longer--mind you. You're my lover and a free man and I don't give a damn about the treaty."

Ray just smiled and continued to kiss and nuzzle the Prince all over his body. Bodie soon forgot his dislike of the slave bands and concentrated on pleasing his lover.

Two weeks after Ray's return the Princess went into labor. It was a month too early and she was very weak but it soon became obvious that her body had reached its limits. Her father, Nurse Hazel, Murphy, and the surgeon remained by her side. The Prince and Ray visited briefly every few hours. After twelve long hours her body was giving out.

Bodie watched as she held Ray's hand and said, "My baby. Please, Ray."

His lover gritted his teeth and shook his head no.

Mary reached up her hand, stroked his cheek and said, "Yes."

Ray looked away but nodded.

Distracted by King Errol, Bodie turned and watched the man pacing. When he turned back the surgeon was bending over the Princess.

He turned and quietly said. "I'm sorry, milord. She's gone. There's nothing more I can do."

The surgeon rose and went to the old king, helping him to sit. Bodie and Murphy moved towards him when a scream stopped them in their tracks.

Nurse Hazel was looking at the bed in horror. Turning Bodie saw Ray cutting into his wife's belly. Before anyone could react Ray had pulled out the child, sliced through the cord, and was holding it upside down his finger in its mouth. Pulling the finger out he slapped it on its bottom. No reaction. He then spun the baby around once by holding its legs. He stopped, put his mouth to the small blue lips and blew. A tiny cough, Ray smacked it's butt, a loud cry. The child was alive!

Ray grabbed up some linens and laid the child down on the bed and began to rub it's limbs dry. He continued long after the child was dry, the baby's cries ever increasing in volume until Bodie grimaced at the noise. Selecting some clean linen, Ray wrapped the baby and picking the small bundle up, walked over and held it out to it's father.

The Prince stared down at the small bundle terrified. Ray chuckled and shoved it at Bodie who automatically took the baby but looked like he was afraid that it would bite. Once it was securely held in the Prince's arms, his lover pulled back the cover and pointed at the small penis between the child's legs.

Murphy, who was looking over the Prince's shoulder said quietly, "Congratulations, it's a boy." He then looked up at Ray and said, "That's why she wanted you here, isn't it? And what you were fighting about? You learned that from your mother and she wanted you to take the child before she was dead."

Ray nodded and stroked the child's head, a moist drop trickling down from his eye.

King Errol rose slowly and came to view his grandson. Bodie, seeing the King's approach, asked, "Would you like to hold him?" At a nod Bodie handed him swiftly over, and heard a soft chuckle from his lover. Ray was obviously damned well aware of how nervous babies made the Prince.

"Perhaps when you're done passing the child around you'll let me have a look at him," the surgeon's voice held a trace of irony. He turned and looked at Ray, "I'm an army leech, and it seems that I have a lot to learn. Perhaps you could instruct me later on how to perform that operation."

Ray nodded.

"Good. I assume that the woman dies if the surgery is necessary?"

Another nod.

"Too bad. Still it allows the child to be saved and would be worth learning."

Ray motioned to the baby and then pointed at his tit.

"Yes. Quite right. We'll need to find a wet nurse for the child. I've got a couple of candidates in mind. Mavis in the kitchen has just given birth to her fifth, she always produces enough milk to feed a half dozen brats. Her next youngest is more than old enough to be weaned...we'll cut him off and she can take care of the little prince and her infant, too."

The surgeon took the baby from his grandfather and setting him down on a table began a thorough examination. After a few minutes, Bodie noticed that Ray was gone, looking around he spotted him over by the late Princess. He had needle and thread and was carefully sewing up the cut he had made. Mary's nurse crying quietly beside him and handing him the items he needed to finish the unpleasant duty.

Turning away, Bodie felt it all clutch at his heart. He was worn and tired and wished that there had been some other way. He went to stand beside Murphy, who was now watching Ray, and put his arm around him. His friend sagged into his embrace. No words, no tears, but Bodie could feel Murphy's pain.

He spoke softly, "I'm sorry, my friend."

"'S not your doing. Hope there's a special place in hell for that bastard Willus."

"You and me both."

"So what are you going to name him? William--of course--but what else."

"Well, I'd like to give William a pass, but I guess it'd get up too many noses. How about William Ray?"

Finishing his stitching Ray stood up and shook his head. He brought his hands together his fingers grasping like he was holding and stretching something.

"You don't want him named after you?" Bodie was puzzled.

Ray pointed to himself and then made the stretching motion again.

"I think he's saying that Ray isn't his full name." At Doyle's nod, Murphy continued, "Is it Raymond?"

Ray gave him a big smile and a nod.

Bodie smiled back, "That's settled then, his name is William Raymond Bodie."

Bodie paced the length of the large tent, waiting impatiently for Councilor Cowley. 'Damn I wish these meetings were done with.' He was surprised at how very much he missed his son. No longer afraid to hold and love him, he and Ray would spend most all the child's waking hours with one or the other holding him or laying beside him. Mavis was an excellent wet nurse and he'd made sure that little William's nurse brought him to visit as often as possible. They'd been away over a week now and at the rate things were going it'd probably be another two weeks before he could even hope to head home.

They'd been camped outside of Fortress Malvern for three days. The first was spent meeting with what few Orienta nobles were left and willing to take responsibility for making decisions. The next day had been spent discussing various claims to the Orienta throne. First Prince Bodie's then King Doyle's. By the end of the second day it was clear that both men had about equal claims to the throne--and neither were very good. But there were none left in Orienta with even marginal claims. Willus had made sure of that in his time there. The third day had been spent in negotiations--Orienta's nobles finally declaring that the two rulers claims were equal and they had no preference in the matter as long as it was settled peacefully between the two men. No one wanted a civil war, King Willus' rule had already been decimating enough.

So now it was the morning of the fourth day and Lord Councilor Cowley had asked for a private meeting with the Prince. It seemed he had a proposition from DeLorne's new king. Bodie had agreed but wished now that he'd insisted Ray be allowed to attend. His lover had been making himself scarce of late. Bodie had come to the conclusion that Ray did not want his status as a former slave to put his lover at a disadvantage during the negotiations. He may have had a point but Bodie missed his support and advice. Still, in the night they were together and that was enough for now.

Captain Zuck clapped his hands together to announce his desire to enter.

"Come," the Prince called.

Pulling back the tent flap, Zuck stepped to the side and announced, "Lord Councilor Cowley, your highness."

The two men nodded at each other. Cowley had requested the meeting Bodie decided to let him speak first.

A slight smile touched the Councilor's lips. He was well aware of the Prince's motives.

"I'll get straight to the point. Both you and King Doyle have equal claim to the Orienta throne. Neither wants a fight." Bodie nodded that he was correct. "Good. King Doyle proposes that the two of you bond and rule the three kingdoms together as one. It would make you stronger than all those around and should bring stability to all concerned."

The Prince fought to maintain his composure. He'd not seen this coming.

Finally collecting his thoughts he spoke, "Four kingdoms. My son is the heir to Melgrain and I will assume the throne upon King Errol's death."

"Four kingdoms then."

"And what about heirs? I can't imagine that King Doyle would allow my son to be his heir."

"You might be surprised what the King would allow but your point is well taken. Having only one heir would not be wise. King Doyle's sister has expressed her willingness to have your children and I'm sure there is a lass in your family that would willing have King Doyle's."

Bodie could think of a few, provided the King was handsome enough. He smiled at his cousin Sara's probable reaction to the suggestion. Children and standing, without the bother of a husband. 'Yes, she'd jump at the chance.'

"I see you can think of a few," Cowley's dry voice brought him back to the present. The suggestion might work except for one thing....

"I'm afraid that's not possible. I'm pledged to another."

"I understood that your wife died in childbirth a few weeks ago?"

"That's right but there is still someone who I've pledged to and intend to bond with as soon as my period of mourning is past."

"Ah, yes, I've heard talk of your slave whore--"

"Call Ray that again, old man, and your age will not protect you." The Prince was fiercely angry; the Lord Councilor knew enough to back off.

"Nevertheless, you're willing to risk war between our lands so that you can marry a man of no standing?"

"I married once for my kingdom. This time I intend to marry to suit my own purposes."

"And those are?"

"None of your business. I have pledged to Ray and I will bond with him."

"Even if other's must die for that decision?"

"The treaty with Melgrain was supposed to hold Willus in check. It didn't stop him. Nor would an empty marriage bond with King Doyle. Especially since I would be breaking my pledge to another to do so. A man who holds a pledge so lightly would not be trustworthy. A true and lasting peace must be based on honor, trust, and good will, and a marriage bond is not necessary for those."

"You could be signing many death warrants--" Before the Councilor could continue, another voice broke into the conversation.

"That's enough. If you're not satisfied now, you'll never be."

Bodie turned to see who was speaking and was shocked to see only Ray standing in the doorway. His lover was not looking at him but at Cowley with an angry glare.

The Councilor was looking just as displeased. "This was supposed to be a private meeting."

"The offer's been made and turned down. Tormenting him," Ray nodded at Bodie, "was not part of the agreement."

The Prince was trying to bring order to his disarranged thoughts. 'Ray spoke! What the hell had happened? What a sexy voice.'

Bodie interrupted the argument between his lover and the Councilor, "You can talk?"

Ray turned to look at Bodie his face softening, a gentle smile coming to his lips. "Always could, but I vowed when I was sold into slavery not to speak until I was again free."

"Freed you weeks ago--months actually," the Prince's voice accused.

"Know you did, but it wasn't official until after little William was born and then I was bound by another promise." Green eyes glared again at the Councilor.

"Aye, you were." Cowley's glance roved over the two men, noting their besotted expressions. "Well I can see it's no use my arguing anymore. Both of you stubborn as mules, going to be one hell of a bonding."

"Nevertheless, I think we'll do just fine," Raymond declared, a challenge in his voice.

"No doubt," Cowley's voice was arid. "Since my presence is no longer needed, or desired--I'd be willing to bet--I'll take my leave and inform Orienta's nobles of the coming bonding. Are you going to wait a year?"

The two men exchanged a look, Bodie spoke, "No. We'll hold the bonding ceremony at the same time as my coronation." The Prince frowned at the Councilor, "Be sure to extend my personal invitation to King Doyle to attend."

Cowley's glance at Ray was ironic. "Oh, I have no doubt he'll be there. Wouldn't be much of a ceremony without him."

Ray scowled at Cowley as he prepared to leave. It had no effect on the Lord Councilor who exited with the parting shot of, "I'll leave you to it, your highnesses."

"What the hell did he mean by that?" Bodie gave his lover a furious glare. Ray and Councilor Cowley had spoken as equals. The Prince was not at all fond of the notion he was developing.

Ray ignored the question, asking instead, "You're risking a lot, just to bond with me. Doubt that the King would mind if you had a little on the side."

Bodie eyed his lover suspiciously but answered his query nonetheless, "I won't have you treated like that. I love you and I intend to bond with you. King Doyle be damned!"

"I certainly hope not," Ray whispered just before he kissed his lover again. After the brief interlude, they broke apart and stepping back he sighed, "This isn't going to be easy."

"No, it's not, if he was implying what I think," Bodie looked none too happy.

"Depends on what you think."

"You spoke as equals?" the Prince observed.

The green-eyed man ran a hand through his hair and then scratched his ear lobe. Finally he said, "Umm...well...not equals exactly."

"Go on." Bodie was giving him no help, besides he found that he enjoyed listening to him talk.

"My full name is Raymond Doyle Delequois."

Bodie looked incensed as he clarified, "You're DeLorne's new king?"


Angry, the Prince began to pace, "I don't understand? Were you sent to spy on me?"

"No. I was sold into slavery just as you've been told."

"But why? How?"

"My father's death hit my grandsire very hard. During his grieving that bitch Monique managed to snare him. She and her son came to the castle and had it in for me from the start. I'd just turned thirteen and was running a bit wild--upset by my da's death and too proud to admit it. Over the next few years she played up my bad points to the King and soon ruined his good opinion of me.

"That was bad enough but when he refused to declare Bernard his heir instead of me, accidents began to happen. My mom accepted Peter Le Beau's marriage proposal thinking it was a way out. Unfortunately, it turned out to be another of Monique's traps. He was a drunkard and a rake and his orders were to see that I met with a fatal accident. After one too many close calls I left and was hired as a soldier by King Paul. He and my father had been close and he agreed to keep my identity secret. Even helped me devise a false background, as the son of one of his nobles that had left Orienta years earlier. I served as a soldier in his personal guard for many years, only leaving upon his death and Willus' maneuverings. Too many accidents happened to those who were loyal to King Paul and his family."

"I returned to my mother's house to find my sister about to be auctioned to pay my step-father's gambling debts."

"But Willus has been in power a few years?" Bodie pointed out.

"Well, I hung around a few months after Paul's death, tried to stop Willus and his cronies but it was too late by the time I realized that too many people were dying of accidents and mysterious illnesses, he was already firmly entrenched. I'd been so wrapped in my own pain at the King's death that I was slow to act." Ray looked upset by the past, still feeling that he'd failed King Paul.

"My departure did not go unmarked and I dared not risk leading Willus' assassins to my mother and sister. So I wondered around a bit. Visited lands I'd never been to but only heard about, and then relatives in my mother's homeland. Took a couple of years just to see things, but I felt the call of duty and home so I shaved my beard and had grown my hair out so that I would no longer look like the captain of the king's guard--"

"You were the captain of King Paul's guard?"

"In the last year before he died." Ray nodded his eyes unfocused, lost in thought. "Yeah. Was why Willus hadn't made a move sooner. I kept my king safe. Unfortunately, I couldn't save him from the illness which slowly ate away at him from inside." Ray shuddered at the memories, saying only, "The last six months of his life were not pleasant. At times I was tempted to hasten nature and ease his distress."

Seeing the pain in his lover's eyes Bodie forgot his anger and pulled Ray into an embrace. After a few moments he leaned back and asked, "But your family or you must have had money to pay off Le Beau's debts?"

Ray pulled away and went to sit backwards on a chair, his arms folded resting on the back. Prince Bodie perched on the edge of a chest, legs stretched out in front he nodded for Ray to go on.

The King continued, "I'd left my funds in care of friends on the border--no time to get there and back before the auction--and Pierre Le Beau, my step father," his voice held disdain, "had long ago gambled all that my mother and sister possessed away."

"Thought that your sister married a noble from your mom's homeland?"

"She did but he died in a carriage accident--that might not have been so accidental. My sister had become sick at the last minute or she'd have been in the coach as well."

"Not an accident?"

"She didn't believe so, but although there was evidence of tampering, or careless maintenance, no proof as to who'd been responsible could be found. She thought it better in the long run to go into hiding with my Mom."

"But wouldn't Le Beau--?"

"The best guess we have is that he'd been blackmailing Monique for a long bit."

Bodie noticed that his lover never gave her the title queen.

Ray went on with his explanation, "She must have got tired of it, especially when he failed to kill me, and sent assassins to deal with him and us. They struck the inn just after their party had departed. Le Beau was a coward, and he must have sensed some kind of trouble because they left two days early. After that he went on the run and into hiding. That's how they ended up in your kingdom. Guess he reckoned that he could use my mom and sister to blackmail Monique should Bernard ever claim the throne. Unfortunately for him, my grandsire lived a long and healthy life."

"Mary knew who you were? I heard her talk to you about your sister?"

"They were in boarding school together and she recognized me right away from a miniature that Si carried of our family and my resemblance to my sister. That's how she knew I was no threat to her child. If I wanted a crown I had a perfectly good claim of my own to a much larger kingdom than Melgrain."

"Were you the assassin that killed Willus and his advisors?" The Prince didn't seem upset at the thought.

The King surged up off the chair, uncomfortable with the answer. "Yes. I executed them in their sleep."

"Because of your grandsire?"

Ray shot him a look that said, you must be kidding. "Partly. But mostly because he'd come after you. I'd lost my father, King Paul and now my grandfather; I was determined not to add you to the list."


"Wasn't hard. As a former captain of the King's Guard I knew all the secret passages within the castle and several well disguised entrances. I just had to make sure that most were too drunk to raise the alarm--"

"The reports of my demise?"

"Were arranged by me and one of your signet rings used as proof."

"And I thought I'd lost that ring."

"I found it at the sight of your tent as we were getting ready to depart the battlefield. Was going to give it back but with everything it slipped my mind. Came in handy later." Ray smiled at his lover, before frowning as he finished his account.

"I wrote up their death warrants on the journey to Malvern, I'd lived in Orienta long enough to know who was behind my grandsire's murder and the attempt on your life, and made sure that the celebration was long and full of wine. I've still got a few friends in the castle who were glad of the chance to avenge all of Willus' murders and to rid the kingdom of his foul stench."

"Would have thought you'd challenge--"

"Too risky and too many deaths would result. He'd never fight a fair fight. You've seen him in battle, hides behind his men and lets others die for him, uses any means fair or foul to kill his enemies, then turns tail and runs if it looks like he's going to lose. We'd have had war for months or years and in the end he would have escaped to try again later. No, he and his three advisors had to die." Ray's voice was firm and final.

"One of the benefits of being a king is that you can issue death warrants without worrying about a trial. Your attempted assassin's testimony was enough for me and I ran into others as well on my way into Orienta. There was more than enough evidence to warrant his death."

"Why not tell me or send word? Didn't you think I had a right to know?" Bodie's tone contained both anger and hurt. "You must have known I'd be concerned."

"At first there was only anger, and a desire for vengeance and to protect you. You would have wanted to come along and that would either mean waiting to mass enough troops for a siege, or that you'd come and leave your kingdom. As much as I wanted you by my side, your people needed you more. If I failed then it would be left to you and my Lord Councilor to fight Willus."

"I see. But then later after you returned?" the hurt was now clearly evident.

"I had to return to DeLorne to claim my throne. I was going to send a message to you explaining and asking you to meet me here. Councilor Cowley was not convinced of our affections. He'd not seen me in nigh on eight years--I was an unknown quantity--and you were not noted for your commitment and fidelity."

"He would challenge the bond?" The Prince sounded indignant.

"He has the right. He kept my kingdom together and saw to the trials of Monique and Bernard. He had the right to question my fitness to rule and my choice of mates."

"And who would rule if he found you wanting? Himself?" Sarcasm dripped from Bodie's voice.

"Hardly. He had contacted my mother's people and was readying negotiations with them, if myself or my sister couldn't be found or proved unsuitable. My return was fortuitous."

"Then why return to Lodon?"

"To be with you until we could arrange a meeting between the Councilor and yourself."

"So he was vetting my worthiness?"

"And your commitment to me," Ray agreed. "Bringing the four kingdoms together under one rule is not going to be easy. He wanted to be sure that our bond was strong enough to handle the fights that would no doubt occur."

"And if he didn't think so?"

"Then he wanted to return to one of his two original plans. Either establishing a ruler from within Orienta's nobility--there are a few still left who went into hiding that might suit--or the other option was to split Orienta into two or three parts with DeLorne, Lodon, and Melgrain each taking a share."

"I'm sure that would have gone over big with the Orientans," was Bodie's caustic observation.

Smirking back Ray said, "About as well as Lord Cowley's suggestion that I give you up and select a bride from DeLorne's court."

The Prince smirked back, "Didn't like that idea, sunshine?"

"Not for a minute. Had quite a fight about it. In the end we compromised. I'd return to Lodon but gave my oath not to talk to you and tell you who I was or the proposition that the Lord Councilor was going to make. He wanted time to take stock of you and how you handled yourself. I gave in. Was easier to let him have his way on this and thus repay part of the debt that I owe him."

"And now?" Bodie asked.

"Now, my love, you've passed with pennants flying and if you'll have me, we'll marry and rule together." Ray strode over to stand in front of his lover.

"Oh, I'll have you all right, just as I imagine, you'll soon have me."

They went into each others arms, and Ray whispered, "Count on it," right before their lips met.

They were laying on Bodie's bed, the Prince on top, their shirts off and their trousers about to follow, when Lord Murphy burst into the tent.

Bodie broke off the kiss they were sharing and leaned his head down on Ray's shoulder, saying, "Can't get locks put on tents--can we?"

Murphy, furious, ignored the Prince's attempt at humor. "Do you know what Councilor Cowley just informed the Orienta Council?" Bodie and Ray looked at each other then looked back at Murphy.

Bodie answered, "I've got some idea. Yes."

"So it's true. You're going to dump Ray and bond with King Doyle? Damn it, Bodie, how could you? And you, how could you let him?"

The men on the bed sat up, the Prince held up a hand to stop Murphy's tirade, "This isn't exactly the time, and there is definitely something else I'd rather be doing," he let his hand roam down his lover's side, it came to rest on Ray's arse, "but...Murphy, I don't think you and Ray have been properly introduced.

"Raymond, may I present to you my very dear friend, impetuous defender, and sometimes conscience, Lord Colin Murphy," Bodie waved a hand in his friend's direction. "Murphy, may I present to you my lover, and my fiance, King Raymond Doyle Delequois."


Ray, kneeling behind the Prince, leaned an arm and his chin on Bodie's shoulder and said, "Told you he wouldn't be speechless."

"So, you're right. Take it out in trade?" Bodie turned his head and kissed Doyle on the cheek.

Ray nipped his ear, "Gladly."

"But....'re...that's not.... I mean how long have you...? He.... You...can talk...."

"Just found out myself. And you interrupted Raymond right in the middle of his apology for not telling me earlier. Now be a good lad and go keep the Cow company," Bodie heard his lover snort at the nickname he had just bestowed on the Lord Councilor.

"Better not let him hear that, sunshine," the King nuzzled his lover's ear.

"Formidable is he?" the Prince queried.

"Very. Keeps me quaking in my boots."

"Didn't think anything could do that, love. I certainly didn't," the Prince observed wryly.

"No, just made me weak at the knees." Bodie's insides turned to mush. Their eyes met again and they fell into a kiss and onto the bed.

Lord Murphy let himself out and doubled the guard on the tent with instructions not to let anyone disturb the negotiations. 'Perhaps Councilor Cowley can tell me what's going on,' he mused as he headed back to the fortress for an explanation.

-- The End --

20 February 1998
Published in Chalk and Cheese 19, Agent with Style, 1999

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