Honor. Duty. Love. Blackmail. Intrigue. Lust. Flies. Yes, flies. Killer blood-seeking flies have been the bane of Koilatha since the founding. They’re rumored to live in the ruins of an ancient temple of evil, not that anyone has ever gotten close enough to find out for certain. As a high priest, Rak is duty-bound to investigate these flies. The sun priest attempting to purify him and the palace functionary blackmailing him complicate matters, as does his brother’s near death at the hands of an ambitious woman and the king’s continued attempts to force him to accept the position as heir to the throne.
The worst thing of all is that, while sober, Jisten won’t settle for lust—he wants it all. And never mind that Rak has seduced him twice already. Where does honor lie when intrigue, duty, and love conflict?
“Tellin’ ya, t’was great,” Sed boasted, reliving the details of his sexual encounter with Rak. The other guards hovered in a semicircle around Sed’s bunk and were listening with such envy and awe that they didn’t hear Jisten enter. Normally they ceased such talk as soon as their captain entered, out of deference to his sensitivity.
Jisten stalked over and slugged Sed, sending the astonished sergeant sprawling to the floor. He didn’t break his nose. Yet.
Sed gaped up at him from the bare floor. “Cap’n!”
“Either you’re bragging or you’re lying,” Jisten said. “If you’re lying, we’re taking this outside with steel. If you’re bragging, well…” The captain stopped, fists clenched, his expression wavering between fury and uncertainty.
Sed scrambled to his feet and wiped the blood off his face. Another guard quickly handed him a blood amulet. “Cap’n, I wasn’t lyin’.”
Jisten’s fists remained balled. “Then do not speak about the envoy with such disrespect. If you were honored enough to, well, you know, then keep quiet about it!”
The guards exchanged glances.
“Yessir,” said Sed, but he didn’t look repentant. “Don’ be mad at him, he didn’t have no choice.”
“What?” Jisten drew his sword. “You know my policy about rape!” The other guards grabbed Jisten’s arms and planted their feet. Their captain turned into an enraged, charging bull over the subject of rape.
“No rape!” Sed raised his hands and backed off several feet. “Scorch it! Ain’t splainin’ myself.”
“Captain! Sed wouldn’t do that to anyone!”
“Captain! Calm down! Sed was complimenting the man!”
“Hey, we’re all a little jealous!”
“Jealous?” Jisten shook his arms and his dissipating rage reassured them enough to release him. “This has nothing to do with me!” He took great interest in examining his sword’s edge, to avoid the disbelieving looks of the guards.
“He’s interested in ya,” said Sed in a cajoling tone.
“I’m not jealous—what?” Jisten looked up from his sword and stared at Sed. More looks were exchanged amongst the guards. Jisten’s sword point sagged to the floor, something he normally would never permit. Fentri took the sword from Jisten’s hand and returned it to its sheath.
“What did he say?” Jisten winced. He sounded like a farmgirl.
Sed cleared his throat and glanced around pointedly. “Yer office, sir?”
“Oh, yes!” Jisten grabbed Sed’s arm and dragged him to his office. The guards pouted. “Go practice or something!” Jisten called over his shoulder.
Many ears pressed against the door. Every now and then, Jisten would thump the door, making the eavesdroppers wince. Sed flopped into one of the chairs despite them being wooden and flop-proof. Jisten sat opposite him and leaned forward. “How in the world did my name come up during, well, uhm, how did it?”
“Cap’n, everyone knew he’s interested in ya.”
Jisten waved dismissively. “You’re just saying that.”
“Ain’t. I saw, after ya left.” Sed sighed. “Ever hear of th’ Riverlands slavefire potion?”
When Jisten shook his head, Sed took a deep breath. “’Fraid of that. Th’ potion, uhm, it’s evil, but real common in th’ Riverlands.”
Jisten looked wary. “This can’t be good.”
“Ain’t. Used ta, uhm, make slaves need sex.” Sed sweated as he tried to explain to his virgin captain.
“Need?” Jisten looked quizzical.
“Like, ya need ta eat an’ breathe. Makes ya need sex like that, an’ as often. Burns real painful like an’ th’ pain gets worse longer th’ slave holds out.”
Jisten fixed Sed with a burning gaze. “Tell me that you’re exaggerating. That it’s a lie to sell slaves.”
“Ain’t,” said Sed quietly. “Wish t’were. Th’ potion's illegal here, thanks ta th’ Prince. But not in Chloi, not in th’ Riverlands. Given ta most, mebbe all slaves…” He trailed off. “Gots it myself. Hurts at times, makes me bolder than should ta find a partner.”
Jisten sat back in his chair and covered his eyes for a minute.
“Permanent potion, ain’t like th’ rape drug. S’Rak said even th’ Gods can’t reverse it.”
Jisten looked looked past Sedrael, thinking, one hand cupped over his mouth. “So, it’s a need, not love, then?”
Sed shrugged. “Mebbe not. You’d left, an’ he’d waited longer than should’ve. Had ta have relief, but t’was clear ta me that t’was you he wanted, not me.”
“I wonder,” Jisten said. Then he came back to himself. “I’m sorry I punched you. Still, bragging is indiscrete, Sed. He’s a high priest, an envoy, and Owain’s son. Have a little respect.”
“Tryin’ ta help him. If th’ good guards understand…” Sed smiled wryly. “…I like him an’ don’t want him ta suffer.” He stood up and put a hand on the door. “If’n that’s all?”
“One question, why you? Why not a woman?”
“Potions again, th’ ones given ta male sex slaves an dancers like him. He can’t uhm, top. Hasta be used ta relieve th’ fires.”
“Not just a man, but a man on top?” Jisten looked even more horrified, if that were possible.
“What th’ masters want inna male sex slave, sir. Don’ want him usin’ the females neither. I dinna get that one, got th’ gladiator one instead, makes ya more aggressive, fearless-like in battle.”
Jisten withdrew into himself. “Like a living nightmare,” he said quietly, more to himself than Sed. “Like perpetual night raids on Lythadi camps.”
“Those like S’Rak, they don’t get freed often. Or last in freedom fer long.”
Jisten covered his mouth and raised agonized grey eyes to Sed. “And his God sent him here, to Koilatha.”