Captive Prince:Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy(9)

By: C. S. Pacat


“Don’t be childish. Bed who you like. But value the gift of King Kastor. You have already shirked your duty on the border. You will not avoid your responsibilities at court. Find some appropriate use for the slave. That is my order, and I expect you to obey it.”

It seemed for a moment as if Laurent would rebel, but he bit down on the reaction and said only, “Yes, uncle.”

“Now. Come. Let us put this matter behind us. Thankfully I was informed of your activities before they progressed far enough to cause serious inconvenience.”

“Yes. How lucky that you were informed. I would hate to inconvenience you, uncle.”

This was said smoothly, but there was something behind the words.

The Regent answered in a similar tone. “I am glad we are in accord.”

Their departure should have been a relief. So should the Regent’s intervention with his nephew. But Damen recalled the look in Laurent’s blue eyes, and though left alone, with the remainder of the night to rest undisturbed, he could not have said whether the Regent’s mercy had improved his situation, or worsened it.





CHAPTER TWO




"THE REGENT WAS here last night?” The man with the rings on his fingers greeted Damen with no preamble. When Damen nodded, he frowned, two lines in the centre of his forehead. “What was the Prince’s mood?”

“Delightful,” said Damen.

The ringed man gave him a hard stare. He broke from it to give a brief order to the servant who was clearing away the remains of Damen’s meal. Then he spoke again to Damen.

“I am Radel. I am the Overseer. I have only one thing to explain to you. They say that in Akielos you attacked your guards. If you do that here, I will have you drugged as you were aboard the ship, and have various privileges removed. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Another stare, as though this answer was in some way suspect.

“It is your honour to have joined the Prince’s household. Many desire such a position. Whatever your disgrace in your own country, it has brought you to a position of privilege here. You should bow down on your knees in gratitude to the Prince that this is so. Your pride should be put aside, and the petty business of your former life forgotten. You exist only to please the Crown Prince, for whom this country is held in stewardship—who will ascend the throne as King.”

“Yes,” said Damen, and did his best to look grateful and accepting.

Waking, there had been no confusion as to where he was, unlike yesterday. His memory was very clear. His body had immediately protested Laurent’s mistreatment, but Damen, taking a brief inventory, had judged his hurts no worse than those he had occasionally received in the training arena, and put the matter to one side.

As Radel spoke, Damen heard the faraway sound of an unfamiliar stringed instrument playing a Veretian melody. Sound travelled through these doors and windows with their many little apertures.

The irony was that in some ways, Radel’s description of his situation as privileged was correct. This was not the rank cell he had inhabited in Akielos, nor was it the drugged, hazily remembered confinement aboard the ship. This room was not a prison room, it was part of the royal pet residences. Damen’s meal had been served on a gilt plate intricately modelled with foliage, and when the evening breeze lifted, in through the screened windows came the delicate scent of jasmine and frangipani.

Except that it was a prison. Except that he had a collar and chain around his neck, and was alone, among enemies, many miles from home.

His first privilege was to be blindfolded and taken, complete with escort, to be washed and readied—a ritual he had learned in Akielos. The palace outside of his rooms remained a blindfolded mystery. The sound of the stringed instrument grew briefly louder, then faded into a half-heard echo. Once or twice he heard the low, musical sound of voices. Once, a laugh, soft and lover-like.

As he was taken through the pet residences, Damen remembered that he was not the only Akielon to have been gifted to Vere, and he felt a groundswell of concern for the others. Sheltered Akielon palace slaves would likely be disoriented and vulnerable, never having learned the skills they needed to fend for themselves. Could they even talk to their masters? They were schooled in various languages, but Veretian was not likely to be one of them. Dealings with Vere were limited and, until the arrival of Councillor Guion, largely hostile. The only reason Damen had that language was because his father had insisted that, for a prince, learning the words of an enemy was as important as learning the words of a friend.

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