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The Cobbler's Soleless Son


Less Than Three Press LLC

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 15,000
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Everyone expects Renart Walker to follow in his mother's footsteps and become the cobbler for their little demon-ruled town. That'd be the proper thing to do: keep his head down, live his quiet human life, and try not to get too involved with demons. But Renart has never been terribly concerned with proper, and he isn't interested in a quiet life. His interests are a little more ambitious: he's aiming to catch himself a demon prince.

As a human, he'd never be allowed to even get close to Prince Hrahez. The only solution is to make a bargain with a demon, and everyone knows what they want. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and he's got a plan—but it involves tricking a demon. If it doesn't work, nobody in town would want to be in his shoes.

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Renart Walker, the cobbler's son, tilted his head up and breathed in the scent of demons. There were always at least a couple in this town—passing through, hunting, going about their business. Today, though, they crowded into the streets, rubbing shoulders and other parts (not all of them even had shoulders) with the humans around them.

Hrahez, the Demon Prince who ruled the fiefdom of which Potfeld was a part, held grand events twice a year. Of these, the humans were only invited to one, and the demons brought the party to them.

This year it was a parade, though as always, some kind of celebration had formed around it. Fresh food was being hawked to curious onlookers, and demons turned out to mingle with the crowds, joining in the revelry as it passed through the fief. The purpose, as Renart understood it, was for the prince to show himself off to his fiefdom—to remind them of his presence.

The previous year, it had been a festival and market, though Renart hadn't seen much of it. Right at the start, he'd hooked up with a demon and missed most of the day's events. It wouldn't be the first festival he'd missed like that, though—and he rather hoped it wouldn't be the last.

He wondered vaguely if Tarigan were around this year and what Renart would say to them if so. He didn't think it'd be something he'd have to deal with, even if they were somehow still in Potfeld, Tari probably wouldn't look anything like Renart remembered.

Tari was a cubant—a sex demon. Renart had met incubi and succubi before, cubants manifesting male or female, but Tari was the first intercubus he'd seen. He'd known all cubants could change their bodies' entire appearance at whim, and swapped terms when they did, but wasn't sure if that changed how they thought of themselves.

"Well," Tari had said when Renart had asked, "we're all cubants however we look. That's how we identify, kiddo. Pronouns, terms... for some people, demons and humans alike, they definitely matter! But for cubants—and a lot of shapeshifters—they're just descriptions for people who want to put words to others. And they help us get what we want." They had paused then, and grinned at Renart. "And I do like getting what I want from you. But we're everything, and we flow back and forth over that range. Male, female, both, in between, outside. We change what we look like and call ourselves to reflect how we feel at the time, though of course some of us have our preferences. But if I start feeling like I want to wear a different shape, I'll use different words."

So that had answered that, and Tari spent a lot of time answering other things besides, some without words entirely. It had been an enjoyable and educational few months, but after that they'd started coming to his window a lot less. When asked, they'd outright admitted they were getting bored of Potfeld, and ruffled his hair as if to take the sting away. Renart had taken that silent apology to mean that they were also bored of Renart, and wasn't terribly shocked when one day, Tari just stopped coming around. The two of them hadn't had many interests in common, and Renart's eagerness to learn only got them so far.

Besides, newly of age as he had been, Renart was curious about meeting a lot of types of demons at that time, and the way Tari drained his energy made it difficult to play around.

The break-up had set his friends' minds at ease, at least, though Renart carefully avoided telling them that it wasn't stopping him from seeing other demons. Most people worried quite a bit about anyone who wanted to hang around with demons. Demons were predators, after all—and humans just their prey, the cities their herds.

Demons didn't hunt humans to death in Hrahez's fiefdom—at least, not so often that it was notable, not if they stayed safely within the cities. Hrahez was rare in that he managed to maintain some sort of balance between giving demons the run of the place and keeping humans relatively safe. He allowed humans to live their lives with minimal interference besides what people brought on themselves—unlike most demon-run fiefdoms, which tended toward tyrannical slavery at best. For the people in those, there was never any safety. Fleeing to the few remaining human-run cities wasn't an option either. They rarely let in outsiders, and as he'd heard it, they spent all their time under constant vigilance to keep their cities demon-free, with citizens reporting each other for interrogation at the slightest hint of anything that could have been attributed to demonic influence.

Of course, people complained about Hrahez anyway, but it didn't sound to Renart like things were terribly different overall from the centuries before the demons had appeared. One way or another there'd be an aristocracy with a common class to serve their needs. Whether it was humans preying on humans or demons doing it instead, Renart couldn't see the point in trying to draw a distinction.

At least the demons were interesting.

Music rang out suddenly, signaling the start of the procession. Renart was torn from his thoughts by his excitement, pushing himself up on the balls of his feet to try to see over the crowd.

He knew Hrahez would be leading the way, but even if he hadn't known, there would have been no doubt which one of the demons was the prince. He was riding a black horse that didn't quite move like a horse, limbs flowing too smoothly, eyes so shadowed in its dark face that Renart couldn't really say for sure that it even had them. Hrahez's robes were draped over both himself and his horse so that he seemed to become part of the creature, sleek black hair so long that it melded in as well, flowing behind him like a cape. His curled horns weighed his head back so his chin was held high.

Renart's breath caught.

He had known Hrahez was an incubus, but hadn't anticipated the sheer aura he had. He exuded charisma, charm, desire. It washed over Renart with such intensity that he thought he might die, wanted to be crushed by that sensation more than he'd ever wanted anything. He sighed with an involuntary, sudden longing and heard the rest of the crowd do so as well, a loud exhalation from all around.

There was no reason for Renart to stand out in that mass of meaningless faces and sounds, he knew. He was near the front but not quite at it, and wasn't tall enough to catch anyone's attention in a crowd.

Despite that, their eyes met.

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