Chapter 1: The Watcher (100 words)
From his table in the corner, Richard watches.
Every now and again the scholar tosses back his hair, sable and chestnut flowing rich and thick as velvet. His fingers shuffling the cards are long, slender, well-formed, though the nails are bitten to the quick. Surveying the room for his next mark, his eyes catch Richard's, just for a moment. Surprisingly, he blushes; bites his lip and looks away.
Ahhh, interesting, Richard thinks, smiling as he gestures to the barmaid. When the scholar reaches for his drink, finding warm spiced wine in place of watery ale, he'll know whom to thank.
Chapter 2: Reckless (179 words)
Quit thinking with your prick, Richard's common sense told him. He doesn't belong here. He reeks of trouble.
But Richard lived by his instincts, and right now they were telling him that there was more to the ragged scholar than bitter wit and foolish daring. A mystery to be unraveled, sometime, but not now: for now he was fascinated, drawn like a moth to a flame.
He watched those lips, curled in cynical laughter, and imagined them sweet and firm beneath his. He studied the fluid motion of those fingers, caressing the deck of tattered cards with unconscious skill, and thought about how they would feel on his body. A sheen of sweat had formed along the side of the man's throat, and then Richard could think of nothing more than how that skin would taste, how their bodies would smell tangled together in his bed. He took a long draw of ale, trying to control the reckless desire humming in his blood.
Trouble, trouble, trouble, his common sense shrieked, but his instincts whispered, he'll be worth the risk.
_ _ _ _ _
"The tone of Alec's voice, the showiness of his antagonism, were hopelessly reminiscent of the first time they'd met. Then, his foolish daring and bitter wit had attracted Richard." Swordspoint, p. 261 (Bantam Spectra edition)
Chapter 3: At Leisure (100 words)
Richard never tires of watching Alec sleep, his long body rumpled and pale as the tangled bedsheets they lie upon. He loves how Alec's mouth hangs slightly open, his lower lip ripe and full, like the hothouse strawberries served so extravagantly at MidWinter parties on the Hill. Richard has sampled all the delights on offer during that festival of reckless abandon. None have ever tasted as sweet as Alec, especially that spot on the underside of Alec's jaw, just where it joins the throat. Richard licks it, once, and Alec smiles, stretches, arching backwards toward him, languorous as a cat.
Chapter 4: Creatures of the Night (100 words)
Alec loves to roam the streets at Richard's side. The swordsman is as sleek and beautiful as a wild animal, all coiled muscle, unpredictable and deadly. Lesser creatures hold their breath until the danger has passed; the reckless do not realize their peril until too late.
Blood shed heats their blood. After the kill they return home, triumphant, hungry. Richard straddles Alec, pinning his wrists above his head, his mouth greedily roving Alec's bared throat, chest and belly, down and down, until Alec feels ravaged, ravished, loved.
Sated, they curl around each other like cats, and sleep away the daylight.
Chapter 5: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (100 words)
Originally written and posted as comment fic to Celandineb's story, Knotted Time, which is all about The Bed.
"This is quite nice, actually," Alec announced, plumping the new goose-feather pillows.
Marie and her friend Nan Sharpe had truly outdone themselves. The sheets, neatly mended and laundered, were crisply scented of lavender and the scorching iron. The bed itself had been polished until it gleamed, the smell of lemon oil lingering on the dark wood. Nan had even swept the floor.
"Nobles must feel like this all the time," Richard mused.
"Feel like what?"
"Well cared-for. Pampered. "
Alec lay back on the pillows and spread his legs open wide.
"Come over here. I'll show you some pampering."
Chapter 6: Not Quite A Sure Thing (100 words)
"Why's everyone being so nice to me?" Alec asked, half-bowing to the baked-apple lady, who had just presented him with a spice-flecked concoction. Popularity was a new and unexpected experience.
"Apparently, news of your august origin has preceded your triumphant return. They want to be remembered if Tremontaine ever needs a pocket picked, or someone infected with the clap."
"I'm not the duke yet."Alec grinned as he licked honey off his fingers. "And with Grandmother's fickle nature, it's hardly likely that I will be."
"You know Riverside's predilection for gambling. Perhaps they're just hedging their bets."
Chapter 7: Home (161 words)
Spoilers for The Privilege of the Sword. Inspired by psuedo_catalyst's drabble Market Day, so you probably want to go read that first.
"Tell me," Richard whispered, later, "what color you finally decided on for the drapes."
"Blue, deep blue, like the sea on a sunny day, with leaves and flowers and birds embroidered in cream. They're not very elaborate, really. Not like..."
"What kind of birds? And what are the flowers?"
"Finches? Pigeons? Damned if I know. The flowers are those little daisy-like things that grow all over the place here, fields and fields of them."
"Is that what I smell, along with the thyme? I can hear the bees buzzing, and the birds. It must be their mating season; they're much noisier than they were a few weeks ago."
Alec took a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut; he didn't want Richard's questing fingers to discover the tears welling. "I'll take a good look at those birds tomorrow, and tell you about them."
Richard's lips brushed against his hair, soft and quiet as an owl's wing.
"Thank you. I'd like that."
Chapter 8: In the Village
Spoilers for The Privilege of the Sword.
Her father was in the city, treating the Ambassador's syphilitic son, so it fell to Sophia to tend to the gash on the stranger's arm.
The two men had been living in the white house above the sea for some time now. The villagers' innate suspicion had been assuaged by the money, flowing like autumn rain - a housekeeper and handyman; bee skeps and beekeeping supplies; books and pottery and bright tapestries; fruit and cheese and wine from all over the island. The blind man, it was said, practiced the sword for hours each day while his friend read or studied the bees or the weather or played intricate card games by himself. They had no visitors; went to bed early and arose late.
The man who had been cut was laughing, unconcerned about the blood dripping all over the fine linen of his shirtsleeve. His friend, the blind swordsman whose blade had gone astray, hovered about anxiously. Sophia knew a little bit of their language, and the patter of their words was like raindrops, a pleasant background noise as she concentrated on stitching the wound.
"It wasn't your fault, Richard, how many times do I have to say so? It was either throw out my arm for balance, or trip and risk losing the whole crock. And you worked so hard on that dandelion wine; I was not about to give it up. I'm still looking forward to drinking it."
"I should have been paying more attention. I heard your footsteps, I heard the piglets - how could I not, they make such a racket! - but didn't realize they were about to run across your path. Is the cut very deep? "
"Well, runaway pigs are quick, as well as noisy. I'm sure swine husbandry is an aspect of country life you've forgotten. The cut is nothing. This young lady - " Sophia couldn't help but look up and smile, betraying the fact that she'd been listening, but the man paid no mind - "has sewn me up admirably. It'll look like fine embroidery. Perhaps I should get a tattoo, oak and ivy like the old wizards, to set it off."
"A tattoo? You? You know how you are about pain. Let's go home and try out that wine; you'll be hurting later and it will help. Good day, miss, and thank you." The swordsman nodded to her, and instinctively she curtseyed, though she knew he could not see it.
She watched them as they headed back up the dusty trail to their house, the blind man nodding and occasionally laughing, his staff barely grazing the ground ahead of him as he walked; his friend talking and waving his hands about like a windmill in a stiff breeze. They look so comfortable, Sophia thought. As if they have always been together, and always will be. And throughout the day, as she milked goats and baked bread and hung laundry, she thought about them, and smiled.
Chapter 9: Envy
It was late afternoon on MidWinter day, and the drinking had started even earlier than usual at Rosalie's. Ginny Vandall, waiting on her Hugo, had drunk just enough to decide that she couldn't stand that smug young man, St Vier's precious Alec, one moment longer. The supposed scholar sat at the bar now, instead of a table, acting like he belonged there, when everyone knew he didn't. Under the ragged cloak he wore like shabby armor, he was arrayed in holiday finery, new jacket and expensive new boots. His freshly washed hair, flowing rich as silk, was held back with an enameled clip.
He's got to go, she thought. Picking up her drink, she moved down the bar towards him. The other patrons backed away, but not so far that they wouldn't be able to see and hear what was about to happen. This would be entertaining.
"St Vier's whore," she hissed. The man choked on his drink. "We can all see what you get out of him, but what we can't figure is what he gets out of you."
"Why, Ginny, are you jealous?" Wiping his mouth, he turned those wide, catlike eyes towards her. She wanted nothing so much as to slap that smirk away.
"Did you not ever have a chance with our Richard? Coming young and fresh from the country, I would have thought he'd find a woman of your considerable experience very appealing. Or perhaps not. He does have some rather peculiar tastes, have you noticed?"
She wanted to back away from him then but she felt trapped, like a coney under a cats' mesmerizing gaze.
"The truth of the the matter is, I do have one amazing talent. It's something that I do with my tongue; something he can't get from the ladies here, or the boys at the Apricot, or even any of his noble lovers up on the hill. I've fascinated him with it from the very first night he brought me home. Would you like to know what it is?"
He leaned forward to whisper. "It's intelligent conversation. Richard really likes that while he's fucking, and he can't get it from anyone but me." He sat up, eyes glowing in triumph.
Arrogant bastard. She couldn't help herself - her hand was raised to slap him when strong fingers encircled her wrist. "Don't, Ginny," St Vier murmured.
"Richard!" the loathsome young man cried gleefully. "We were just talking about you!"
"Were you, now." The swordsman smiled.
"Have I ever told you," the scholar said, untangling his long limbs and cloak from the barstool, and taking St Vier's arm, "about how the distance from the earth to the moon can be calculated by determining the angle subtended by two straight lines running from both ends of the Earth's radius to the Moon?"
St Vier laughed. "No, Alec, you haven't".
"Well then, have I got a special treat for you tonight. The sun, the moon, and the earth form a right triangle....." And they were gone, out into the night.
"Have another drink, Ginny," Rosalie said. "You might as well; there's no way to compete with that, until Richard gets him out of his system, one way or another."
Chapter 10: Change of Plans
Change of Plans
Alec hadn't planned to live through one more night.
Tonight he'd go back to that shoddy tavern, instigate a fight, and be killed. The necessary insults needn't be all that complicated or even particularly original. A few choice words and the knives would come out. Alec might toss a drink in someone's face, just for added flair, and then the deed would be done. Foolproof.
Except it didn't work out that way at all. Aspersions cast over someone's mother's virtue, and then over the inferiority of the beer, went right over their heads. But when the question came up about the peculiar weight and heft of one of the dice - that's when chairs were kicked over and things finally started to happen. But damned if that runt of a swordsman, the one they called St Vier, hadn't put a stop to it all with just a word. "My fight," he said, in that unexpectedly soft voice, and then there were movements faster than Alec could follow until finally the one they called Fat Denny lay dead on the floor. Alec stared down at him for a long moment, then turned in fury towards the swordsman.
"You idiot! You've gone and bolloxed it all up!" And stomped up the stairs and out the door.
Well, that was odd, Richard thought. Nodding an apology to Rosalie for the mess, he followed the ragged stranger outside. Pulling his jacket close around him against the cold wind, Richard half-ran to catch up with the man's long-legged gait, finally grabbing him by the arm and pushing him up against a crumbling brick wall.
"What was that all about?" he demanded.
"What was that? What was that? What it was was that I was picking a fight. And you spoiled it, you nitwit, after all my careful planning."
Richard laughed. "You must be joking. You wouldn't have lasted two minutes - Fat Denny would have skewered you like a pigeon."
"Maybe the skewering was part of the plan, you know? You shouldn't go around getting involved in fights that aren't your business. That's no way for a swordsman to make any money."
Richard looked up at him, surveying the long tangle of hair, the elegant cheekbones, the skin fine and pale under its griminess. On impulse, he ran his finger under the stubbled jawline and down the man's throat.
"Ohho," said the man softly, drawing his head back. "Perhaps you would consider cutting my throat instead? Though I don't have any money to pay you; you'd have to apply to my estate, along with all the others; but don't hold your breath over it."
"I have no intention whatsoever of slitting your throat. Can we stop talking about this killing you business? Because it's not going to happen."
"Not tonight, or not ever? Because if it's not going to be tonight, you might never get the chance. I'll freeze to death, instead, which is not what I had in mind at all. It just takes too long. I was planning a quick death, with maximum drama; something to make them say, 'Oh, poor Davey, a pity he came to such a bad end, but it's only to be expected, of course', or something like that.' "
"We don't have to stand out here freezing. We could go somewhere and talk about this death wish of yours."
"Why should I? My death wish is intensely personal; not something I'm interested in discussing with just anyone who pushes me up against a wall after completely fouling up my plans. Besides, where would we go? I'm no longer in the slightest mood for dingy taverns filled with bad-humored cardsharps and cheaply decorated women."
"To my rooms, then."
"As long as it's someplace warm, I don't care. How far is it? My feet are so cold I can't feel my knees. And you wouldn't happen to have anything there to eat, would you? Because I'm starving."
Richard laughed again. "It's not far at all. I think there's some bread and cheese, maybe a bit of wine we could heat up. Is that your name, Davey?"
The man looked down at him, an odd, twisted smile on his face. "Not any more it isn't. You can call me Alec."
Alec opened his eyes. It was morning, and he was still alive. He paused to consider the situation.
Alive in a very comfortable bed, with a body curled around him. Alec rolled his hips back experimentally: yes, definitely a man's body. Ummmm, murmured the man, as he slid his hand along Alec's thigh, his warm lips nuzzling the stubble under Alec's jawline. Alec shivered pleasantly, remembering the night before, the wine, the things he and St Vier had done together, amazing, marvelous things.
Perhaps, Alec thought, being alive another day might not be so bad.
Chapter 11: Enthralled
Alec watches as Richard tends to his blade.
Long strokes, slow, rhythmic, precise. Alec can scarcely breathe, enthralled by the beauty of Richard's hands, his absolute concentration, caring for the blade he loves as if it were a part of himself.
Richard senses his gaze, looks up, smiles.
"Bed," Alec says, reaching out his hand; Richard sets the blade aside carefully and lets Alec pull him up. They stand together a moment, breath to breath, heart to heart. Then Alec nuzzles Richard's palm, still slick with oil, bites the pad of Richard's thumb, one sharp nip, and Richard shivers.