The procession of Celts up the Ermine Street had left Londinium two days ago, and Erik had never been so grateful for the lazy and leisurely pace the wedding party had set for themselves. He and his men were forced to travel overland and far outside of the range of the Celtic scouts who traveled up and down their lines. They couldn't even be called proper lines, not really. Celtic discipline was notoriously shoddy, they yelled, they screamed, they broke rank, they couldn't form a proper line or a battle formation, and yet... Erik had heard the reports from the survivors of the Battle of Watling Street and they had been anything but dismissive. Erik bristled from even the momentary reminder of the failure.
His father, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, had taken 10,000 men against at least 80,000 Celtic warriors; a legionary on any day should have been worth at least ten Celts, at least that was what had been bandied about when Suetonius had taken well trained auxiliaries and perfectly selected terrain and turned what should have been a stirring victory into a crushing defeat. Nero had almost given up on the island, but only the pathetic whining of Cogidubnus and Cartimandua and the complete arrogance of that bitch Iceni, Emma, and her son - the self-styled Rex Britannia - had kept the Romans there at all.
That was all about to change, however. The consolidation of the south east of the island under the Iceni tribe was held together only by the tenuous will of Emma and the mutual hate of Rome that seemed to lie buried in the heart of every Celt, with two strokes Erik intended to crush that tie and avenge his fallen father and his shattered honor.
Even from the distance they were forced to keep, far off into the countryside, it was easy to spot the 'rex', Charles; he swirled among the men - figurehead as he was - and Erik imagined he must have smiled, and perhaps had the occasional stirring speech - fed to him by his mother, no doubt - as he lead his men carefully to slaughter in the north among the Brigantes.
"Sir?" The tentative question came from one of his men as night began to fall.
"We will move shortly. I want nothing but clear ground between us and their camp when true night falls."
Moving a true army in the middle of the night was pure folly, the new moon and typical clouds and fog made it even more so, but Erik only had less than half a century under his command. This wasn't meant to be a combat, this wasn't meant to be a battle, it was meant only to be an assassination. Erik would have gone alone if it weren't for his specific instructions to the contrary.
"Gods with us, they will not even notice their princeling is dead until it is done."
The soldier seemed satisfied and moved to relay the news. They were Romans, Roman legionaries, and none of them had so much as taken off his pack or toed out of a sandal because Erik hadn't commanded it; that was Roman discipline. They were on the move shortly, moving slowly to keep from making noise that would attract the attention of sentries, down out of the distant hills and into the open terrain where the war-wedding party was sprawled. Passed out drunk, every one of them, certainly.
As they approached the edge of the camp, a few soldiers each broke off to sweep forward through the camp, searching for the prince and his queen-mother. If he was lucky he might also manage to take the princeling's sister with him as well. The loss of both of the children would shatter any unity among the tribes. Erik quickened his pace, desperately wanting the honor of killing Charles for himself. His tent was not hard to find, a ridiculous tent done up in silks instead of wools or hides, the light flicker of a fire banked or dying the only illumination.
Erik fingered the dagger at his waist, drawing it as he stepped inside into a small receiving area, abandoned, no soldiers and no servants. The flap that would have separated the front of the tent from the back was drawn open, and Erik stepped carefully through, mindful of his footing and his breathing. The princeling, Charles, sprawled out in sleep wearing nothing but breeches and a blanket of patched together pelts. Up close he was even more pathetic than Erik could have imagined, small, fair, with barely a scar or scratch on him, and with lips that looked painted like a woman's. He looked more like a slave meant to be kept for pleasure than anyone Erik would have trusted to go into battle with.
He suppressed the immediate urge to fall upon him - too much chance of noise - and stepped carefully around to the prince's side and got down on one knee. His free hand went to the prince's mouth and the dagger was aimed for his torc-clad throat. The boy woke - not at all groggy - before Erik could strike, his hand landed on Charles' mouth but he rolled just enough to avoid the blow. Charles' cried out, but was muffled, and Erik knew no one could make it in time even if they'd heard. What he did not expect was the dagger drawn from beneath the folds of furs that slid right between the thin plates of his armor and piercing him just below the ribs, shallow, but painful.
Erik staggered, and the prince's free hand pressed against him and rolled him off.
"ARMS!" Charles yelled, latin - Erik noticed, dimly, before shouting again, something in gaelic. Charles looked back to where Erik lay, bleeding, an emotion that Erik couldn't quite tell what it was crossed the princes' face. Erik was too busy fading into an inky blackness that felt suspiciously like death to care.
The last thing he saw was the prince grabbing for his sword and shield and charging out into the night.
* * *
Erik woke up. He was in pain, and decidedly not in the land of the dead, or anywhere else that might have been more welcome than approximately thirty miles north of Londinium, on Ermine Way, in the Briton princelings tent. He tried to move, found his legs were tied and his hands bound loosely behind his back. He stretched just enough to see that the wound that prince had given him had been bound and he'd been stripped down to his breeches. The Celts had no intention of letting him die, then, either. He thought he might have preferred the somewhat honorable death in his attempt than this.
There were two guards now, flanking the entrance to the back of the tent, the prince himself nowhere in sight. The light from outside suggested early morning, pre-dawn, just red and grey enough to move about.
He tilted his head, slightly at first, looking for his weapons or armor or anything else that he might have used to cut his ropes and escape, but found nothing. His movements alerted the guards he was awake, however, and he expected a kick, or worse, for his troubles and didn't even get that satisfaction. What little energy he had, he wasted so he could at least kneel rather than lay on his side like a dog.
His legs were already aching by the time the prince deigned to return to his tent.
The prince still looked ridiculous, short, wiry, and pale. His perfect skin was at least marred by a bandage on his shoulder - no doubt acquired by some Roman stabbing him in the back when he fled like a startled hare. It was probably too much to hope for that he would develop some sort of infection and die of that. Erik raised his chin, the only defiance he could truly manage under the circumstances. The prince nodded to the two guards and the left him, and they were alone again. The boy had a dagger at least, and Erik's eyes flicked down while he considered how he might acquire it.
"A proper centurion." The perfectly formed latin was surprising, and the prince seemed absolutely delighted. "My lucky day, it seems."
Erik frowned, he'd worn nothing to indicate his rank - or his legion - and was curious how the prince had plucked that information from his mind. "How have you decided that I am a centurion, princeling?"
Charles ignored the diminutive insult, smiling anyway, his eyes were a terrifying icy blue, but Erik couldn't see any malice there. "It is difficult to hide the fine quality of sword and dagger and armor compared to your compatriots. Not that their arms are in disrepair, just yours are obviously of the highest quality." The boy was too clever, or his bitch-mother, or both.
"Where are my men?" There was no use pretending otherwise if the prince already was aware of his rank.
"Some dead. Some fled. Most have been captured and leave for Londinium at dawn." Slaves.
"Mother suggested you would be a suitable gift for my bride-to-be." Charles hunched down onto the balls of his feet so they were nearly level, Erik just slightly taller now while the prince leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "I think I should like to keep you for myself."
All of the dozens - if not hundreds - of ways that the prince might choose to abuse him flashed through Erik's mind in an instant, the first of which seemed painfully likely given his continued presence in the prince's bed while the guards had been dismissed. When Charles reached out it took all of his will not to flinch back, but the prince's hand merely touched the bandage at his side, probing gently. Erik was surprised to find it wasn't painful, although his fingers avoided the worst of the cut.
"Does it hurt?"
He considered not answering. "No." After a moment he added: "It was a poor strike, too shallow."
"That was rather the point." Charles stood, brushed his hands down his pants and then looked around as though he wasn't quite certain what to do with himself. "Get yourself sorted, we leave shortly."
Erik wasn't certain what the prince meant by 'getting himself sorted' but he realized he was probably going to be walking, likely hands tied, so he began to wriggle his arms to get the knotted rope at his wrist in front of him. It was painful, pulling at the wound and dressing, but it didn't take long and he stayed kneeling as the prince circled around the room, packing away his bedding.
"So what are you called, Centurion?"
Erik considered. "Gaius Eriqus Paulinus."
"Eriqus?" Charles tried the name around on his tongue a second time. "Erik?"
He was irritated to hear his name on Charles' lips, and glowered at him, ignoring the way that Charles smiled at him in return.
"Suetonius Paulinus?" Charles asked, clearly understanding naming conventions enough to know they must be related.
Erik's frown deepened. "My father."
"Ah." Charles pulled on a tunic and belt, raking his fingers through his hair. "He was a brilliant tactician."
Of all of the things he'd expected to hear from a Celt concerning his father, that was not anything he had considered. The prince was right, his father was brilliant, and it had been universally acknowledged before his defeat on the Watling Street. "Yes, he was."
A few moments of silence passed; Charles touched and carefully adjusted the gold torc at his throat, neatened his hair again and then donned his sandals. Erik found himself more and more confused by the prince, he was casual, for all his latin was perfect and spoken with an accent that would not have been out of place in Rome itself, and he spoke with an easy self assurance. The Celts made their place in the world through combat, and yet Charles did not look like he would do well anywhere but the back of a line.
His introspection was interrupted by another Celt entering, passing Charles a plate of food and then saying something that Erik could not understand in gaelic.
"It seems we will have to vacate while the tent is taken down." He drew his knife and cut the bonds at Erik's feet. "Up. Do not think of running. I would prefer not to damage you more than I already have."
Erik struggled to his feet, wishing he could rub his ankles to restore some of the circulation there, but he walked out of the tent and into the dawn. All around him, the camp was full of activity; Erik walked along side the prince, trying to keep as much of his dignity as he could, stripped down as he was to pants and sandals. Most of the tents were already stowed and packed. For a procession that contained the prince, his sister and his mother they were up and moving remarkably early.
They walked through camp, Erik continuing to trail after, watching and listening to the coarse tongue of the Celts that was all around him. Charles answered them easily, casual again, and Erik wondered how they could retain discipline with a man like the prince at the head of their army.
"Charles, are you really going to keep him?" The question came from a blonde girl with a pretty, round face and bright eyes that almost matched Charles' in brilliance. Charles greeted her with a hug, and he realized this must be the princess, Raven.
"Yes, no doubt my bride will have more than enough servants and slaves, and if not we shall win her some when we take back her tribe from her mother."
Erik snorted - Cartimandua ruled the Brigantes tribe with the consent of the Empire, her husband, Venutius, had wanted to break with the Empire and his wife had set him aside. Venutius was apparently content to whore his only daughter - Moira - to the prince to keep his pathetic territory. Charles' boldness in thinking that they would be able to defeat the Brigantes and their Roman allies was laughable. Raven stepped up to him and slapped him hard across the face.
"My brother will bleed as many Romans as it takes to remove your stain from our island." Erik blinked, shocked at her words and the sting of her slap. She hit hard - especially for a woman - but then her mother was the Iceni whore who likely had lain with something unnatural to produce the prince and princess. "Have you already forgotten that he's taken you once?"
The conversation between them shifted seamlessly back into the babble of gaelic that he could not understand and he was content to stand there, cheek still stinging slightly from the slap. The tone between the brother and sister was light, but Erik could hear a touch of discord there. He wished he could understand the two of them, wondering if he might be able to drive a wedge between them if he understood the cause of their argument.
Raven left a few moments later, apparently content enough that Erik assumed the disagreement couldn't have been over something of importance. No luck there.
Charles finished with the food he had been eating, finally passing the plate to Erik and he stared down at the small chunk of bread with some sort of game fowl meat stuffed inside. He looked at it again, confused by Charles' meaning in giving it to him. "If you do not wish to eat it, you can wait until we stop at midday."
He didn't need to be told twice and scarfed down the food quickly after that. Charles took the plate and handed it to a passing Celt. The same one returned later with a sword and helmet, which he donned slowly before finally reaching the edge of camp where the bitch-queen stood next to a blindingly white horse.
She was beautiful, despite what the Romans might say about her, with icy blonde hair and cold eyes that didn't have the same warmth as the prince's. She tied a cloak at Charles' neck, smoothed it down over his shoulders, and then had a brief conversation with him. He appeared to have at least a passing mention in the conversation, or at least his father, Suetonius, was mentioned. The queen looked down on him like he had come out of the rear end of a horse. Erik ignored her.
* * *
The Celts were ready to move not long after dawn, and when Erik considered that they had suffered a late night attack the night before it was actually somewhat impressive. They made good time, and had gone almost seven miles before they stopped for midday.
Charles dismounted easily - and Erik decided that Charles' bitch mother must have been mounted by a horse, it was the only explanation for the way he seemed to ride like he'd been born in a saddle. The prince handed him a pair of water skins and then pointed off into the distance where he saw several Celts - maybe slaves, maybe not - heading in that direction.
"Fill them, make certain you drink your fill as well, we will not stop again." He watched the prince stretch and shake out his legs slightly, taking the horse by the bridle and heading farther downstream. "And I warn you, I am quite good with a sling."
That was all he said, leaving Erik feeling somewhat awkwardly torn. There was nothing even resembling a forest or hills where he might conceivably escape to, even if it wasn't by Charles himself he would have been easily run down. No doubt the entire column was aware of his situation by now. Resigned, he followed after the others towards the stream and drank some, filled the flasks, and then took the opportunity to scrub some water into his hair to relieve some of the grit there.
When he returned to the road he didn't immediately see Charles or the queen-bitch - or her white horse - but that did not keep the sister from finding him. She was astride her own horse, a blue roan, looking down at him.
"Well, get him his lunch." She tilted her head towards a supply wagon and then said something in gaelic. He looked at her dumbly, and she said the same thing again. "Say it back to me."
He probably mangled it, but she nodded, deciding it was well enough before she headed off towards the stream, probably to water her own horse. At the supply wagon he tried the phrase at the slave there, he was looked up and down and then a few of the surrounding men laughed, echoing something that sounded close to what he had said. Still he got a decent sized cut of some sort of dried-smoked meat and a revolting looking soft cheese, most of the bread that might have been baked in Londinium had long since gone stale-ish, but he got a crust of bread as well. He took the whole lot towards the head of the column that was milling about only to find that Charles had returned and was now... sprawled out, completely undignified, on the grass just off the side of the road.
When Charles told him to, he sat, and then watched as the prince picked at his lunch slowly.
"I hate carting ourselves off to war." The prince sounded... petulant, perhaps. Erik bristled. "But I am certain you know how difficult it is to maintain good discipline and moral among the army." Erik stared - confused by what the prince was trying to say. Charles looked him over and then spoke again, more slowly, as though he thought Erik might not have understood him. "These troops are well trained, the ones that Venutius will have on offer will not be."
Erik looked over at the troops behind him; they were not legionaries. He asked Charles what the gaelic his sister had taught him meant.
"For the prince, roughly." Charles pulled apart a piece of the meat and offered it over to Erik. He didn't pause, just took it and ate it more slowly than he had breakfast. "It indicates your service to me and solicits items - in this case food - in my name."
Erik didn't care for the grammar lesson, but he still took the chunk of bread that Charles passed a moment later. Learning any of the strange Celtic tongue seemed like a surrender to his current position. Slave. By any Roman law, if Charles had been a Roman soldier and Erik the barbarian, Erik would have been considered a slave. He still hadn't given up on his freedom. Charles was not Roman, he was Iceni, a Celt traitor-usurper to Nero's rightful property in Briton.
"If these are the men who have been trained, I do not envy you the ones Venutius will bring with him from the Brigantes."
Charles just smiled and looked down the line towards the Celts who stretched and paced and went to water their horses or fill their water skins. "Many of them served at Watling Street, they know how to fight both Celts and Romans."
He glowered down at the men, wondered how many of them carried scars from a javelin or gladius, and if one of them might have been the one who struck down his own father. "How was it done?" Charles didn't say anything, blue eyes confused. "Watling Street."
"What do they say down in Rome? Druidic witchcraft and savage and barbarous magic?"
"And what do you believe?" Charles tilted the wooden plate-board that Erik had brought him back towards him, all that was left was the strange crumbled cheese. Erik sniffed at it. Charles just laughed at it. "Sheep's milk cheese, it's soft cheese, but more than palatable."
Erik took one of the chunks and tried it, it was well enough, but he said nothing, not wanting to admit that Charles was right. "I do not think my father would have been taken by witchcraft."
"No. I do not think so, either."
Charles didn't answer, and Erik realized that the boy probably didn't know. He was barely old enough to hold property and be considered a citizen, he would have been perhaps thirteen or fourteen four years ago during the battle. He'd probably been clinging to his mother's teat while she carried the day.
"Some of the Romans who survived that day and carried themselves down to the Regni territory said the Celts fought ferociously, but not like Romans."
"We are not Romans, so that is only logical." Charles plucked up a blade of grass, turning it over in his hands. "Standing in a line face to face with men far better armed and drilled is folly."
That was the logic that made the Roman legions superior to the haphazard Celtic forces, they preferred leathers, didn't carry much beyond sword, shield, and dagger, they were mobile and quick, but not quick enough to respond to the well-drilled tactics of the legion. They were also far more likely to break ranks and run if the battle turned sour, leaving themselves crushed against their brothers as they were set upon from behind.
"So then how does one defeat the legion?" Erik asked, but he didn't expect an answer; Charles was a child, he didn't understand how a true battle would be resolved.
"The same way one defeats a single Centurion, with a quick strike that slides between heavy defenses." Charles stretched, sat up slowly, and pressed his finger next to the wound. "We simply take the best pieces of ourselves, and the best of Rome, and combine them into something that is uniquely suited."
The prince stood, and waved his hand and a call started to pass down the line. They were apparently ready to move again. Erik scanned the distance and saw that there were only a few stragglers returning from the stream with horses or skins and lunch had largely been taken.
"You're pressing them like an army on the move," Erik said, almost impressed.
"That is what we are, isn't it? Celtic warriors at my back as I ride to face two fearsome Brigantes women."
"Two?" Erik asked, while Charles tied the end of Erik's bonds to his saddle.
Charles grinned, mounting up again easily and running his fingers through his hair. "My future wife and my future mother in law."
Erik didn't think particularly highly of a princeling who would be concerned with the his future wife. Perhaps Erik had misjudged, however, the Celts were savages and let their women into battle, it was entirely possible his wife could snap the boy in half.
Erik was spared the worst of the road dust, as the prince road towards the head of the column. Likely it was because Charles did not yet trust him to stay if he'd been allowed towards the back with most of the other slaves - which was wise.
They eventually stopped again well before dusk, and camp broke into life all around them. Charles finally released his bound hands and Erik realized it would be unwise to test the limits of the prince's goodwill too far. The mousey slave from the morning - Hank, apparently, who was also fluent in latin - showed Erik where the prince's horse was kept, and for the first time since the morning he was outside of the boy's presence for longer than an hour.
He was never out from under someone's gaze, however, and the temptation to run was usually dampened by that knowledge. Strange people pushed him through a few basic tasks in a stranger tongue - water for the prince's tent, brushing out tangles from the horse's mane, checking legs and hooves for injuries or stones, and finally standing in line to fetch dinner. He could almost pretend he was among his own men - smellier, stinking of mead and ale, but warriors nonetheless. His illusion was frequently shattered by sharp cries from quarrels or battles, or the presence of a woman armed similarly to one of the men, but he appreciated the illusion when he could cling to it.
When he returned with supper, Charles was in his tent, naked and casually washing himself while Erik found he was unable to do anything but watch. The prince's neck was lightly pink with sun, ruining his fair skin, and an unexpected smattering of freckles played across his back, hidden only beneath the bandage he was still wearing. He was lean, and as he moved Erik could see the way muscles played under softer skin, but that was nothing compared to the pretty curve of the prince's ass and the nicely formed legs below. Thoughts from the night before, where Erik had thought the prince looked like the perfect pleasure slave returned unbidden and he felt his throat grow dry and his eyes slightly heavy from the thought.
Charles turned, although he must have known Erik had been there for some time, and gave Erik a smile that was somehow bashful and seductive at the same time. Erik's eyes flicked down, unbidden, taking in the new details of the prince's body, he was almost hairless but for a light dusting down his stomach, and ... lower. Erik barely managed to tear his eyes away, looking towards the tent flap when Charles came over and took the bowl Erik had brought, his own hands a vice grip as he struggled for self-control.
He set down the bowl and the - mercifully - stepped into breeches and spared Erik the worst of his reasons to stare. "You'd best take advantage of the chance to wash."
Erik hurried over to the bucket and splashed his face with the water, cold enough to give him at least some clarity, his back to Charles he started to scrub his hair and wash the worst of the dirt from his shoulders, while he avoided getting the bandage around his ribs wet. He could feel Charles' eyes on him, hot, burning into his back, and even that made his throat dry.
When he turned to check over his shoulder he saw that Charles was watching him, his bright blue eyes dark and lidded, his fingers playing with his lips, dinner completely ignored. He watched for a moment longer, the prince's breathing was shallow and rapid.
The sinking realization that Charles wanted to use him, was likely going to use him - like a woman - settled in to Erik's chest and his fingers curled into the wood of the bucket, struggling for some way to keep his honor. His eyes flicked behind him and Charles' eyes pointedly traveled down Erik's back. Slowly, he undid his pants, fingers trembling, nervous like some virgin, expecting the prince to fall on him at any moment.
He pushed down his pants, ignoring his fear, ignoring the presence of the prince. But it was impossible to ignore the low moan from the man behind him, and a glance behind him found him lounging in his chair, hips canted forward and his hand palming himself through his trousers. Erik turned back to his bucket and slowly started to wash his legs, torn between bending over or lifting a leg. He tried to be economical, scrubbing himself impersonally, pretending that Charles - his audience - was not even there.
It was an impossible task, Charles continued to make breathy gasps as Erik moved, and the sounds had a wrenching effect on him, twisting and leaving unexpected heat low in his belly. Even the slight chill of the water couldn't keep his cock from twitching.
Erik blamed Charles, Charles with his bright red lips and perfect ass and pale skin and his impossibly blue eyes. In another life he would have... would have thrown Charles down onto a bed or the ground and fucked those whimpers out of him, but even though Erik was the slave to be used his body wouldn't stop reacting to those sounds.
"Come here, let me touch you." Erik turned to Charles, already embarrassingly half-hard, just erect enough that Charles would have to be blind not to notice. His body didn't seem to know the difference, though, between master and slave, because he was all too willing to come to Charles, his eyes fluttering closed when lightly calloused fingers ran down his chest and sides.
All he could feel was Charles' hands running over him, touching, lightly squeezing, feeling the muscles of his thighs and his stomach, and even though the hands came nowhere near his cock his breath was coming faster and harder and he felt Charles' hands on him like fire, leaving a trail of heat along his body that didn't fade even as his hands moved on.
"I could touch you all day," Charles murmured, his lips somewhere near his thigh.
His teeth grazed against Erik's hip bone and Erik whimpered, thrusting forward against his will. He wasn't supposed to like this, he wasn't, but his body had other ideas, and even his mind was having a hard time remembering why he wasn't supposed to enjoy warm hands and soft lips on his body.
It had been too long; Charles looked like a pleasure slave; Charles was touching him, not the reverse. All his excuses faded away when Charles reached behind him and squeezed his ass with both hands, making Erik thrust at his face again and whine. Charles was some sort of witch to be able to make him rock hard without even touching his cock, it was painful, even, standing like that, erect, legs straining. Those hands trailed down his ass, along the back of his thighs leaving a tingling feeling and the subconscious urge to spread his legs.
Erik shifted, widening his stance even as he fought with himself. Charles purred, and the sound went straight to his groin and his cock was leaking and that tingling down his thighs was making his legs weak and his head dizzy and he couldn't get enough air, couldn't breathe.
"Gods, look at you... perfect..." Charles' mouth was against his thigh, every move of his mouth brushing lips against him and leaving Erik shivering. "Every inch of you... I need you in my bed. Now."
His legs didn't even allow him the decency to hesitate, nearly sprinting into the back of the tent. Charles was going to fuck him, was going to use him, and Erik's cock throbbed in anticipation, even as he got down on his hands and knees like a fucking dog hesitant-eager and ashamed of himself.
Charles found him like that, face buried in furs, ass in the air and he could hear the prince gasp... "Oh that is delightful." Charles' hands returned, playing up and down his spread thighs, urging his legs farther apart and Erik complied without thinking, just feeling.
Erik's breath came in shuddering gasps and felt warm and boneless and not even the touch of Charles' fingers against his hole could shake him just then, but then his fingers pressed, hard, just behind his balls, and Erik groaned into the furs, his body shaking so much he thought he might have come, but then Charles' hand fell away and his cock was just as hard as before.
"Roll over." Erik did, wordless, and Charles was there over him, naked, cock hard, legs straddling Erik's and looking so perfect. His lips were red, teased full by the Prince's teeth, and his perfect skin was flushed, sweat falling down one brow.
"Perfection." Charles was perfect, and Erik couldn't stop himself from noting it, saying it, making his shame complete.
Charles dipped his head, flushed and embarrassed and pleased. "Touch yourself, touch yourself the way you would to make it last."
Hesitation lasted only a moment and Erik reached down to touch himself, just teasing his tip but he felt raw, over sensitive, he let the precum coat his palm and then slide down his shaft, eyes closing as he tried to think of some fantasy.
It was folly, he had a fantasy sprawled out above him and his eyes opened, taking in Charles' lean frame, the light dusting of hair down his stomach and his cock, fully erect and perfect.
His eyes must have begged for something, because Charles answered, his fingers sliding against the back of his hand. "You are more than welcome to touch."
He grabbed, pulled, his fingers digging into Charles' hip and dragging the prince farther up his body, far enough so that Charles perfectly straddled his hips, close enough that he could have pulled Charles down and fucked him. Charles didn't protest, though, he leaned forward, hand pressed to Erik's chest and moaned, low and soft and he sounded like a damn whore.
"You think I look like a boy you'd pay his master so you could fuck."
"Yes," he answered immediately, not even thinking. Yes, yes, oh yes. He was supposed to make it last but he couldn't, his hand flying up and down his cock.
Charles pressed his hands down on Erik's hips, pinned him, and then slid his own hips forward, brushing his hole against the tip of Erik's cock. He thrust, but Charles' hands held him down and he came, short spurts of cum against the prince's ass. His own body trembled, and he was grabbing the prince's hip so tight it was going to bruise his pale, perfect skin, but the fuzzy and lazy feel of his orgasm fled the moment he realized Charles was still over him, hard and leaking.
Even as his hips tilted up, betraying his mind, Erik scrambled for a way to keep Charles from fucking him. His hand flew from his own cock, still covered in his own semen, and he slid his hand up and down Charles' cock, coating him.
"Oh..." The look on his face was pure ecstasy and he could feel the shaking in the prince's arm as he held himself up with hands pressed to Erik's chest.
Charles couldn't be far from coming, he was only human, and Erik continued to stroke, hard and fast, his other hand searching for whatever spot Charles had pressed against behind his balls. He rubbed, experimentally.
"Gods, Erik, harder."
He thought he might have been able to come again just from hearing those words, but his cock couldn't even manage a twitch. He pushed, harder, up against smooth skin and Charles came, shooting across Erik's stomach and hunching over, panting, trembling and spent.
Erik drifted off to gentle murmurs as Charles stroked his hair, some chord cut and slowly unwinding in his spine.
* * * *
Erik woke some time later to find it was dark out and Charles wasn't in bed. Low voices - gaelic - came from the front of the tent, something was being debated, not hotly, but enough for Erik to tell there were at least two - and maybe more - sides to the discussion. He recognized Charles' voice among them easily but the rest weren't ones he recognized. He debated staying curled up in the furs - Briton nights were chilly - but eventually gave it up as a poor excuse, pulling on his pants and shrugging into a tunic and belt before he peaked out from behind the tent flap.
Conversation quieted. Charles turned, saw Erik, and then indicated wordlessly that Erik should stand behind him. Conversation resumed in the same hushed tones.
He did not recognize the particular hillfort, but the table between the assembled Celts obviously contained a diagram of a hillfort, likely one belonging to Cartimandua and the Brigantes. The other drawing he recognized, at least from the symbols on it - one of the outposts for the Legion IX Hispania. They had been crushed by Emma's forces early in the uprising, but new reinforcements had swelled their ranks again in the intervening years.
There were no troop markers, nothing to indicate how battle was expected or would be fought, and Erik wondered if this was a session for planning or just discussion, it was impossible for him to get much but the emotions or tones of the assembled Celts, so he watched them, judging them for himself.
They were young, none of them could have been older than Erik, all of them no more than a few years older than the young princeling. One was blond, with a narrow face but broad enough shoulders, Erik had seen him circling around the prince from time to time, protective. He stood shoulder to shoulder with a brunet with a squarer face, but they had a certain common look about them, maybe brothers or cousins. The next soldier at the table was a woman, tall and more graceful than strong, with long red hair that was tied behind her back. A slightly smaller boy - and he did look like a boy - also with red hair, cropped closer, stood near the red headed woman, those two were likely Brigantes, the red hair being something imported from the parts of their tribe that controlled territory on Eire.
None of them were material that Erik would have selected for war leaders, or confidants to a prince or governor. They were young, obviously enthusiastic, but there was more to war than enthusiasm and having all your arms and legs.
He followed the conversational banter, Charles would ask something - usually of the redheads or the brothers as a pair - they would respond, each filling in or adding to what the other said, and then Charles would consider, make a decision, and then deliver it with calm authority. Something was being planned, but it might have been anything from wedding festivities to an attempted siege on the hillfort or assessing weaknesses of the Ninth's outpost.
It was annoying for Erik to realize that Charles did carry a great deal of authority, and he carried it effortlessly. His mother might have been needed to tame the older members of his tribe, but among the younger generation he could see that Charles' leadership was easily accepted.
"My... generals, perhaps is the best word," Charles explained after he had left. "Alex - the blond, Scott - the brunet, Jean - the woman, and Sean, the red headed man. The last two are of my wife's tribe, Brigantes."
Erik nodded; he would have kept the information in mind even if Charles hadn't obviously been providing it because he wanted it remembered. "They are young."
"Too young, you mean to say?"
Erik frowned slightly, yes, that was what he had meant. Charles didn't wait for an answer, however, and walked over to the side of his tent, pouring himself a drink, wine, maybe. He poured another, and held the cup out for Erik. He took it, sipped cautiously. It was wine, good, nothing like the watered vinegar he might have expected a barbarian prince to favor. Charles sipped his own drink slowly, savoring a mouthful while he thought.
"When do you teach someone to be a good citizen of Rome?"
"When he is young," Erik answered, immediately. It wasn't a difficult question.
"And when do you teach a Celt how to conduct warfare in a way that is different to the way his father and his grandfather conducted it?"
And then Erik understood. Charles' older soldiers were not the same as Roman legionaries, not veterans of a dozen conflicts that proved their ability to hold their lines and change their formations a moment after their Centurion or General commanded it. They were... Celts. They were good for skirmishing and charging over walls with a brutal yell, but against a Roman force in an open field with a General who knew his territory and his men, they were useless.
Charles' generals were the future of his campaign. Erik had no doubt they had been hand selected by Charles, hand trained by the best warriors Charles could pick.
"Tomorrow night I will be entertaining the... traditionalists. You will make certain we are all well served with drink." Charles took another swallow of wine and Erik reflected that it was exceptionally unfair that the red wine seemed to stain his lips an even brighter red than they were naturally. His was a mouth that was born to be wrapped around a man's cock.
"Wine?" He asked to distract himself from his own thoughts.
"Goodness, no. Mead."
Erik made a face and Charles laughed at him. "Not very Roman, is it?"
"You suggested earlier that that was the entire point."
"So I did." The prince looked down into his cup and then inclined his head towards the back of the tent. "Come."
He watched the prince's retreating form with a mix of lust and dread, before he took another look at his own cup and drank the remaining wine down in several quick gulps. Charles had already stripped out of his tunic when Erik arrived a few moments later, but he didn't move to strip farther. The prince gently attacked Erik's belt and then tugged his tunic over his head, his fingers ghosting along his sternum, eyes hungry. "Lay down."
And then Charles turned and left - out into the other part of the tent. Erik did what he was told, but kept himself perched up on his elbows and tried to stay calm.
A few moments later Charles returned with a small chest and set it down, drawing out a small jar of something sickly smelling. Charles was going to... Erik squeezed his eyes shut, felt Charles shift so he was straddling Erik high against his thighs, and then touching his hands against Erik's ribs and...
Then he unwound the bandage against his ribs. Erik opened his eyes.
"You do not need to look like I am going to ravish you at every turn, truly." Charles thought the whole thing was very funny, apparently. Erik gritted his teeth. Charles leaned in, his mouth close enough to Erik's ear so that he could feel Charles' hot breath. "Unless you would like me to?"
Erik's breath quickened, and even he couldn't lie to himself enough to think it was only from fear. "No."
"Pity." Charles pulled back enough for Erik to see his face. At least he wasn't the only one affected by this - his cheeks pink from something more than the sun and his lips parted enough to let out gentle pants.
Still, his fingers were sure and professional as he unwrapped the cloth, and his finger lingered... only slightly more than necessary over the plains of his abs and stomach. Under the bandage there was a folded square of fabric and Erik winced when Charles pulled it away. The wound itself was well cleaned, and neatly stitched by an expert hand. Whoever was responsible for sewing up soldiers they were clearly well practiced.
Charles used the disgusting smelling balm on the wound and he hissed again, it burned, but Erik assumed it was to stop infection. A fresh new pad was placed on the wound and then Charles seemed to give in to whatever desire he'd been fighting, running his hand along Erik's chest, eyes hot again.
"I want to have you," Charles said, and Erik bit down on his lip to stop from making a sound. "I want to push you back and raise your legs and slide into you, taking you so hard that you will scream out 'yes, my prince, harder' for the entire camp to hear." Something that filthy should never have been said in Charles' crisp and precise latin and his flawless Roman accent. "The next day, everyone will see the way you walk beside me, or the way you wince with every shift as you sit behind me on my horse and they will all know exactly how much you are mine."
Erik did not moan. If he did, it was only because Charles had reached down to cup his groin. "Why don't you, then?" He hissed out between clenched teeth, trying to keep his own treacherous body from making another unwelcome sound.
Charles leaned forward, his body barely inches from Erik's. He left one hand on his stomach, fingers softly curled into his flesh there, the other hand stroked Erik's neck and he tilted his head - just barely - exposing more flesh to the prince's fingers. Charles mouth was right next to Erik's ear, when he spoke Erik thought he could almost feel his teeth brushing up against the soft skin there. "Because I have not yet taught you how to scream 'yes, my prince, harder' in gaelic."