Captive Prince:Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy(8)

By: C. S. Pacat


Laurent came forward, until he stood just four paces away. It was a carefully chosen distance: Damen judged that if he strained the chain to its limit, pulling it taut, they would almost, but not quite, touch.

“Nothing to say? Don’t tell me you’re shy now that you and I are alone.” Laurent’s silken tone was neither reassuring nor pleasant.

“I thought you wouldn’t soil yourself with a barbarian,” said Damen, careful to keep his voice neutral. He was aware of the beat of his heart.

“I wouldn’t,” said Laurent. “But if I gave you to one of the guards, I might lower myself as far as watching.”

Damen felt himself recoil, couldn’t keep his reaction off his face.

“You don’t like that idea?” said Laurent. “Maybe I can think of a better one. Come here.”

Distrust and dislike of Laurent roiled within him, but Damen recalled his situation. In Akielos, he had thrown himself against his restraints, and they had grown ever tighter as a result. Here, he was just a slave, and a chance to escape would come if he did not ruin it with hot-headed pride. He could endure Laurent’s juvenile, pin-prick sadism. Damen must get back to Akielos, and that meant that for now, he must do as he was told.

He took a wary step forward.

“No,” said Laurent, with satisfaction. “Crawl.”

Crawl.

It was as though everything ground to a halt in the face of that single order. The part of Damen’s mind that told him he must feign obedience was drowned out by his pride.

But Damen’s reaction of scornful disbelief only had time to register on his face for a split second before he was sent sprawling onto his hands and knees by the guards, after a wordless signal from Laurent. In the next moment, again responding to a signal from Laurent, one of the guards drove his fist into Damen’s jaw. Once, then again. And again.

His head rang. Blood from his mouth dripped onto the tile. He stared at it, forcing himself, with an effort of will, not to react. Take it. Opportunity would come later.

He tested his jaw. Not broken.

“You were insolent this afternoon, too. That is a habit that can be cured. With a horse whip.” Laurent’s gaze tracked over Damen’s body. Damen’s garments had loosened under the rough hands of the guards, baring his torso. “You have a scar.”

He had two, but the one that was now visible lay just below his left collarbone. Damen felt for the first time the stir of real danger, the flicker of his own quickening pulse.

“I—served in the army.” It wasn’t a lie.

“So Kastor sends a common soldier to rut with a prince. Is that it?”

Damen chose his words carefully, wishing he had his half-brother’s facility for falsehood. “Kastor wished to humiliate me. I suppose I—angered him. If he had another purpose in sending me here, I don’t know what it is.”

“The Bastard King disposes of his waste by tossing it at my feet. Is that supposed to appease me?” said Laurent.

“Would anything?” said a voice behind him.

Laurent turned.

“You find fault in so much, lately.”

“Uncle,” said Laurent. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Uncle? Damen experienced his second shock of the night. If Laurent addressed him as “uncle,” this man whose imposing shape filled the doorway was the Regent.

There was no physical resemblance between the Regent and his nephew. The Regent was a commanding man in his forties, bulky, with heavy shoulders. His hair and beard were dark brown, without even the highlights to suggest that a blond of Laurent’s fair colouring could have sprung from the same branch of the family tree.

The Regent looked Damen briefly up and down. “The slave appears to have self-inflicted bruising.”

“He’s mine. I can do with him what I like.”

“Not if you intend having him beaten to death. That’s not a suitable use for the gift of King Kastor. We have a treaty with Akielos, and I won’t see it jeopardised by petty prejudice.”

“Petty prejudice,” said Laurent.

“I expect you to respect our allies, and the treaty, as do we all.”

“I suppose the treaty says that I am to play pet with the dregs of the Akielon army?”