(Continuing the weekly serial by Cecilia Tan! Need to start at the beginning? Click here.)
Part 33: Kenet
I played the part of Roichal’s page for a few more days, as he and the field marshal checked over what seemed to me to be the entire army. One morning, though, Roichal’s leg was so stiff, he could not mount his horse, and no amount of cursing and railing (and it was quite an amount, let me assure you) would change that. Marksin eventually forced him to lie back down and then went away, returning quickly with a jar which he thrust into my hands. “Go on. This will help him,” was all he said, and then he hurried off, to make the inspections himself, I supposed.
Roichal actually uttered a moan then, the first sound of discomfort I could recall him making. He must have been in great pain. I hurried to kneel next to the pallet and show him the jar.
He clucked his tongue. “This salve is strong stuff, Page, but there is nothing else for it. Give it here.”
He took the jar from me and I surrendered it, but part of me wanted to hold onto it. Hadn’t the general said when I’d first arrived that he would teach me to rub his leg or some such? It wasn’t his ‘third leg’ he’d been referring to, that much I was sure. He still had not made any move toward me sexually, unless one counted him putting me and Marksin together.
He seemed neither the type to condemn a man for desiring a man, given his charity toward his field marshal, nor sickened by the thought, as I knew some men were. Perhaps he simply did not desire me? He slept with me held close every night, though.
Under the blanket, so I could not see what he did, he shifted out of his trousers and his hands moved. His brow was damp with sweat from the effort of trying to get into the saddle, and the pain. I decided to insist he let me help.
I put a hand atop the blanket, his knee. What could I say? What words would a slave from another land have learned? “Help,” I said then, and reached for the jar. “Page help.”
“I can do this myself, Page. No need for you to involve yourself.”
“Page help,” I repeated, knitting my eyebrows together. “Strong hands.” Not as strong as Jorin’s but…
He caught one of my hands in his, and for a moment I thought I caught a flash of something eager in his eye. But then he was shaking his head. “I will be fine.”
I just shook my head slowly, as if I didn’t believe him. I rubbed his knee through the blanket.
That broke his resolve and he sighed. He swung his legs over the side of the cot and then draped the blanket so that only his bad leg was exposed. He could barely bend his knee at all and yet I could not see anything obvious. I expected to see scars or some kind of visible sign of the stiffness.
He put the jar back into my hands. “Start at the ankle and work your way up,” he said, gesturing.
The stuff in the jar smelled strongly of mint and cinnamon and odd medicines, reminding me only a little of Seroi’s concoctions. It was brown and seemed to melt a little under my fingers. I started rubbing in circles around his ankle and gradually worked my way upward.
Now that I could feel his muscles, I could feel that they were like stones, with no way for him to relax them. I worked slowly, only moving upward when I felt the flesh under my fingers start to feel supple and normal. By the time I was halfway up his thigh, a quarter of the jar was gone and my eyes were watering from the pungent scent of the salve.
“That’s enough, you can stop there,” he said, but I fixed him with a glare.
“Leg only,” I assured him. He had rebuffed my advances to his breeches more than once, I didn’t need to be told again and he seemed to know that. He nodded and I continued all the way up to the join of his hip.
He sighed again, this time with real relief, and it was easy to urge him to lie back down and cover his legs with the blanket again. He was asleep within a minute, a sure sign of how much the suffering had taken out of him.
I went to wash my hands of the salve. When I returned, Marksin was standing at the entrance to the tent, peeking sidelong through the flap.
“Ah, here you are. Well, I’ve gathered the reports of a few of the commanders we had been due to visit today.” He handed them to me.
I did not have the carrying pouch I usually bore on these visits. Perhaps that was why I made the mistake I did. I looked down at the top sheaf, and read it.
I caught myself after a moment, but the redness of my cheeks surely gave me away as much as the obvious lingering of my eyes had. Marksin merely crossed his arms, regarding me.
“You’re not fooling either of us, you know,” he said. “You may as well drop the charade. It’s obvious you understand us perfectly and it isn’t as if we’re going to forget and speak military secrets in front of you.”
I just shook my head and shouldered past him into the tent, putting the reports beside the pallet where the general could see them when he woke. Marksin did not follow me.
I went back out and sat on the fallen tree. If I spoke, if I revealed that I could speak, there would be one advantage, and that would be I could ask questions. But would Marksin answer?
Oddly I found that days on end saying only a few words here and there had suited me. I wondered suddenly if that was part of the transformation Seroi had wanted for me? Did whoreslaves only use their mouths to suck milk?
That made up my mind for me. “I can speak,” I said, though it came out a whisper. “I just… don’t want to.”
He let out a wry huff and set next to me. “It’s suited your purposes well enough, you mean.”
“A mage…” Quite suddenly though, I could not speak. A choking sound came from my mouth, and then I doubled over, as my breath seemed to disappear inside me. I had forgotten the promise! Seroi had bound me to silence on the subject of what he had done to me. I tried to think of something else to say and the moment I did, the choking sensation eased. “The sky is blue,” I said, since that was what I had thought of, and then gasped, trying to suck in as much air at once as I could.
To my surprise, Marksin’s hand was steadying me. “Careful, careful,” he said. Then, “When was the last time you ate solid food?”
I shrugged. “A week ago, maybe? The days run together.”
“This is the work of a Night Mage, that much is clear. But how did you escape from the Frangi court to end up all the way here? Can you tell me, or does the spell compel your silence?”
I shook my head.
“What can you tell me? If you care for him at all, you must tell me all you can,” he said with a jerk of his head toward the tent, meaning if I cared for Roichal. “You do realize that just as you can be magically compelled not to speak, you could be compelled to do things as well. How do I know you are not an assassin sent to do away with him when the right moment comes?”
“Lightning strike me if I am,” I said. “I’m no assassin. I’m… I’m not sure what I am now.” And that was the truth without me saying anything about what Seroi had done. “You seem… you seem to know something about Night Magic.”
“Only a little,” he said in a resigned voice. “Roichal knows a bit more, but even he…” He stroked a hand over my hair. “Even he was surprised to find that you seem to be living on my milk alone. I wonder, how long can you go before you need more?”
I put a hand over my mouth; I was suddenly nearly drooling. “I don’t know.” It came out a whisper.
He sat back as if trying to put some distance between us.
“Go,” I said gesturing toward his tent at the bottom of the hill. “I… I won’t. Not without his permission.”
He stood, backing away, as he said, “Neither would I, Page. Send for me when he wakes.”
“I… I will.” My stomach grumbled and I clutched at it. “Go.”
He hurried down the hill, but his gait was stiff and I wondered how hard and throbbing his prick must have been. I went back into the tent and watched Roichal sleep for long minutes while trying to decide what to do. Why had I said that I wouldn’t suck Marksin’s milk without the general’s permission? It seemed right. And Marksin had agreed with me. Even he accepted what had never been spoken aloud by any of us. I belonged to Roichal. I was his.
I crawled under the blanket with him then, shivering a little with the strength of the hunger in me. I wondered if I should try to eat some actual food, but a part of me knew it would do nothing for me. And what about… my own milk? Would it slake my thirst? But I had been unable to spill. Was this why?
I eventually passed into a fitful sleep, and woke some time later when the general stirred. He rolled onto his back and I tucked myself into the crook of his arm. He did not raise his head but stroked my side and said, “Thank you, Page.”
“Is your leg feeling much better, sir?” I asked.
If he was surprised to hear me utter a full sentence, he showed none of it. “Much better, yes, thank you. And how about you?”
I hesitated a moment before answering. “I’m… I’m hungry, sir.”
“Ah. Hungry for what, though?”
“I… Not for bread, sir.” I hid my face against his side then, as if admitting it aloud were shameful. Oh Seroi, what did you do to me?
Roichal hushed me. “I am sure the field marshal would be pleased to provide for you if you are in need,” he said in a gentle voice.
“I… I know, sir.” Why did I feel so miserable? I was trembling. “I wouldn’t… that is… neither of us would, without your permission.”
His thumb traced my cheek as he shifted to face me, and then my trembling ceased when he placed one very soft but very deliberate kiss on my forehead, claiming me for his own in a way that spoke to me without any need for words.
“Go to him,” he whispered then. “Go and have your fill, and then come back to me.”
I didn’t want to leave him. I wanted to stay there in his arms, even as hunger gnawed at me. I could remember the salty taste of Marksin’s cock, the tang of his milk, but I did not want to leave Roichal’s side. I also knew better than to argue with an order, though. I nodded and slipped from his bed without a word.
Marksin was more adventurous with me this time, touching more of me and letting me touch more of him. But no matter what caresses he gave to my body, none came close to surpassing that one kiss of Roichal’s.
(Continued in Chapter 34!)
(Continuing the weekly serial by Cecilia Tan! Need to start at the beginning? Click here.)