Captive Prince:Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy(6)

By: C. S. Pacat

“I’m not desperate enough that I need to soil myself with filth,” said Laurent.

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Break him on the cross. I believe that will discharge my obligation to the King of Akielos.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

He could feel the relief in Councillor Guion. Handlers were quickly motioned to take him away. Damen supposed that he had presented rather a challenge to diplomacy: Kastor’s gift blurred the line between munificent and appalling.

The courtiers were making to leave. This mockery was over. He felt the handler bend to the iron link in the floor. They were going to unchain him to take him to the cross. He flexed his fingers, gathering himself, his eyes on the handler, his single opponent.

“Wait,” said Laurent.

The handler halted, straightening.

Laurent came forward a few paces to stand in front of Damen, gazing down at him with an unreadable expression.

“I want to speak to him. Remove the gag.”

“He’s got a mouth on him,” warned the handler.

“Your Highness, if I might suggest—” began Councillor Guion.

“Do it.”

Damen ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth after the handler released the cloth.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” said Laurent, not quite pleasantly.

He knew better than to answer any question posed in that saccharine voice. He lifted his eyes to Laurent’s. That was a mistake. They gazed at each other.

“Perhaps he’s defective,” suggested Guion.

Pellucid blue eyes rested on his. Laurent repeated the question slowly in the language of Akielos.

The words came out before he could stop them. “I speak your language better than you speak mine, sweetheart.”

His words, carrying only the barest trace of an Akielon accent, were intelligible to all, which earned him a hard blow from the handler. For good measure, a member of the escort pushed his face right down to the floor.

“The King of Akielos says, if it pleases you, call him ‘Damen,’” said the handler, and Damen felt his stomach drop.

There were a few shocked murmurs from the courtiers in the chamber; the atmosphere, already prurient, became electric.

“They thought a slave nicknamed for their late Prince would amuse you. It’s in poor taste. They are an uncultured society,” said Councillor Guion.

This time Laurent’s tone didn’t change. “I heard that the King of Akielos may marry his mistress, the Lady Jokaste. Is that true?”

“There was no official announcement. But there was talk of the possibility, yes.”

“So the country will be ruled by a bastard and a whore,” said Laurent. “How appropriate.”

Damen felt himself react, even restrained as he was, with a hard jerk aborted by chains. He caught the self-satisfied pleasure on Laurent’s face. Laurent’s words had been loud enough to carry to every courtier in the room.

“Shall we have him taken to the cross, Your Highness?” said the handler.

“No,” said Laurent, “Restrain him here in the harem. After you teach him some manners.”

The two men entrusted to the task went about it with methodical and matter-of-fact brutality. But they had a natural reluctance to damage Damen totally beyond repair, being that he was the Prince’s possession.

Damen was aware of the ringed man issuing a series of instructions, then departing. Keep the slave restrained here in the harem. The Prince’s orders. No one is to come in or out of the room. The Prince’s orders. Two guards at the door at all times. The Prince’s orders. Don’t let him off the chain. The Prince’s orders.

Though the two men lingered, it seemed that the blows had stopped; Damen pushed himself up slowly to his hands and knees. Gritty tenacity made something of the situation: His head, at least, was now perfectly clear.

Worse than the beating had been the viewing. He had been more shaken by it than he would admit. If the collar-chain had not been so short—so impossibly secure—he might have resisted, despite his earlier resolve. He knew the arrogance of this nation. He knew how the Veretians thought of his people. Barbarian. Slave. Damen had gathered all his good intentions about himself and endured it.