Captive Prince:Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy(5)

By: C. S. Pacat

The sound of a bolt being thrown back jerked his attention to the door.

Two men strode into the room. Watching them warily, Damen indistinctly recognised the first as a Veretian handler from the ship. The second was a stranger: dark-haired, bearded, wearing Veretian clothing, with silver rings on each of the three joints of every finger.

“This is the slave that is being presented to the Prince?” said the ringed man.

The handler nodded.

“You say he’s dangerous. What is he? A prisoner of war? A criminal?”

The handler shrugged a Who knows? “Keep him chained.”

“Don’t be foolish. We can’t keep him chained forever.” Damen could feel the ringed man’s gaze lingering on him. The next words were almost admiring. “Look at him. Even the Prince is going to have his hands full.”

“Aboard the ship, when he made trouble, he was drugged,” said the handler.

“I see.” The man’s gaze turned critical. “Gag him and shorten the chain for the Prince’s viewing. And arrange an appropriate escort. If he makes trouble, do whatever you have to.” He spoke with dismissive words, as though Damen was of minimal importance to him, no more than a task on a checklist.

It was dawning on Damen, through the clearing drug-haze, that his captors did not know the identity of their slave. A prisoner of war. A criminal. He let out a careful breath.

He must stay quiet, inconspicuous. Enough presence of mind had returned to him to know that as Prince Damianos he would be unlikely to last a night alive in Vere. Better by far to be thought a nameless slave.

He allowed the handling. He had judged the exits and the quality of the guards in his escort. The quality of the guards was less significant than the quality of the chain around his neck. His arms were lashed behind his back and he was gagged, the collar chain shortened to only nine links, so that even kneeling, his head was bowed, and he could barely look up.

Guards took up position on either side of him, and on either side of the doors, which he faced. He had time then to feel the expectant silence of the room and the tightening string of heartbeats in his chest.

There was a sudden flurry of activity, voices and footsteps approaching.

The Prince’s viewing.

The Regent of Vere held the throne for his nephew, the Crown Prince. Damen knew almost nothing about the Prince except that he was the younger of two sons. The older brother and former heir, Damen well knew, was dead.

A scattering of courtiers was entering the room.

The courtiers were nondescript except for one: a young man with an astonishingly lovely face—the kind of face that would have earned a small fortune on the slave-block in Akielos. Damen’s attention caught and held.

The young man had yellow hair, blue eyes and very fair skin. The dark blue of his severe, hard-laced clothing was too harsh for his fair colouring, and stood in stark contrast to the overly ornate style of the rooms. Unlike the courtiers who trailed in his wake, he wore no jewellery, not even rings on his fingers.

As he approached, Damen saw that the expression that sat on the lovely face was arrogant and unpleasant. Damen knew the type. Self-absorbed and self-serving, raised to overestimate his own worth and indulge in petty tyrannies over others. Spoilt.

“I hear the King of Akielos has sent me a gift,” said the young man, who was Laurent, Prince of Vere.

“An Akielon grovelling on its knees. How fitting.”

Around him, Damen was aware of the attention of courtiers, gathered to witness the Prince’s receipt of his slave. Laurent had stopped dead the moment he had seen Damen, his face turning white, as though in reaction to a slap or an insult. Damen’s view, half-truncated by the short chain at his neck, had been enough to see that. But Laurent’s expression had shuttered quickly.

That he was only one of a larger consignment of slaves was something Damen had guessed, and the murmurs from the two courtiers nearest him confirmed it, gratingly. Laurent’s eyes were passing over him, as though viewing merchandise. Damen felt a muscle slide in his jaw.

Councillor Guion spoke. “He’s intended as a pleasure slave, but he isn’t trained. Kastor suggested that you might like to break him at your leisure.”