Captive Prince:Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy(4)

By: C. S. Pacat


“You hit like a milk-fed catamite,” said Damen.

Adrastus took a step back, his face white.

“Gag him,” he said, and Damen was struggling again, in vain, against the guards. His jaw was expertly prised open, and a thickly cloth-bound iron bit forced into his mouth and swiftly tied. He could make no more than a muffled sound, but he glared at Adrastus over the gag with defiant eyes.

“You don’t understand it yet,” said Adrastus, “but you will. You’ll come to understand that what they are saying in the palace, in the taverns and in the streets is true. You’re a slave. You’re worth nothing. Prince Damianos is dead.”





CHAPTER ONE




DAMEN CAME BACK to himself in stages, his drugged limbs heavy against the silk cushions, the gold cuffs on his wrists like lead weights. His eyelids raised and lowered. The sounds he heard made no sense at first, the murmur of voices speaking Veretian. Instinct said: Get up.

He gathered himself, pushing up onto his knees.

Veretian voices?

His muddled thoughts, arriving at this conclusion, could make nothing of it at first. His mind was harder than his body to muster. He could not immediately remember anything after his capture, though he knew that time had passed between now and then. He was aware that at some point, he had been drugged. He searched for that memory. Eventually he found it.

He had tried to escape.

He had been transported inside a locked wagon under heavy guard to a house on the edge of the city. He had been pulled from the wagon into a closed courtyard and . . . he remembered bells. The courtyard had filled with the sudden sound of bells, a cacophony of sound from the highest places in the city, carrying in the warm evening air.

Bells at dusk, heralding a new King.

Theomedes is dead. All hail Kastor.

At the sound of the bells, the need to escape had overwhelmed any urge to caution or subterfuge, part of the fury and grief that came upon him in waves. The starting of the horses had given him his opportunity.

But he had been unarmed and surrounded by soldiers, in a closed courtyard. The subsequent handling had not been delicate. They had thrown him into a cell deep in the bowels of the house, after which, they had drugged him. Days had bled into one another.

Of the rest he recalled only brief snatches, including—his stomach sank—the slap and spray of salt water: transportation aboard a ship.

His head was clearing. His head was clearing for the first time in—how long?

How long since his capture? How long since the bells had rung? How long had he allowed this to go on? A surge of will drove Damen from his knees onto his feet. He must protect his household, his people. He took a step.

A chain rattled. The tiled floor slid under his feet, dizzily; his vision swam.

He struck out for support and steadied himself, one shoulder against the wall. With an effort of will, he did not slide back down it. Holding himself upright, he forced the dizziness back. Where was he? He made his hazy mind take inventory of himself and his surroundings.

He was dressed in the brief garments of an Akielon slave, and from head to toe, he was clean. He supposed this meant he had been tended, though his mind could supply him with no memory of it happening. He retained the gold collar and the gold cuffs on his wrists. His collar was chained to an iron link in the floor by means of a chain and a lock.

Thin hysteria threatened for a moment: he smelled faintly of roses.

As for the room, everywhere he looked his eyes were assaulted with ornamentation. The walls were overrun by decoration. The wooden doors were delicate as a screen and carved with a repeated design that included gaps in the wood; through them you could glimpse shadowy impressions of what lay on the other side. The windows were similarly screened. Even the floor tiles were parti-coloured and arranged in a geometric pattern.

Everything gave the impression of patterns within patterns, the twisty creations of the Veretian mind. It came together then, suddenly—Veretian voices—the humiliating presentation to Councillor Guion, “Are all the new slaves bound?”—the ship—and its destination.

This was Vere.

Damen stared around himself in horror. He was in the heart of enemy territory, hundreds of miles from home.

It didn’t make sense. He was breathing, without holes, and had not suffered the regrettable accident he might have expected. The Veretian people had good reason to hate Prince Damianos of Akielos. Why was he still alive?

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