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The Attolian court was still unsure what to make of Costis. Officially he was one of the king’s personal guards, just like half a dozen other soldiers. He had regular duty shifts and sat in anterooms, or stood behind the king looking menacing and armed. He took meals with the guard, and had a room assigned in the barracks. Unofficially the term 'consort' was thrown around, although no one would dare to say it to the king's face, and Costis didn't fit any regular definition of the term. Any other consort to any other king would have flaunted their arrangement at least enough to curry favor with the rest of the court. They would have had gifts, titles, and promotions laid on them by their lover, using their relationship for some kind of gain. Certainly the court had noticed Eugenides often ended the night with Costis in his room, but Costis was otherwise just like any other guard in his squad. He was expected to be promoted, and a few courtiers grumbled that this was due to the king's favor, but most of them - and all of the guards - knew Costis was well deserving of any promotions he earned.

The knowledge that the king was visiting the queen's chambers without walking the long hallways between the rooms had quickly spread throughout the palace. Everyone from the guards in the anteroom to the Barons keeping an eye on the succession were keenly aware that all they knew was Costis and Eugenides were locked into a room at night and were there the following morning. They were still in shock and even something like awe over the king after his confrontation with Teleus and subsequent seizure of command, and were ready to believe almost anything of the king. Taking a young guard to bed made as much sense as anything, and lovers, such as they were, were a normal thing for kings to have. What they weren’t sure what to do with was the knowledge that Gen seemed to have a lover in addition to being utterly devoted to his queen.

Less acceptable, and whispered about much more carefully than they whispered about Eugenides and Costis, was the whispered rumor that it wasn't Attolis but Attolia who had an eye on the young guard. Why else the secrecy and separate bedrooms?

"You're enjoying this too much" Ornon told Gen. They were consulting on the upcoming royal visit to Eddis for the wedding.

"Which, the rumors that I'm a cuckold?" Gen asked, unconcerned. "Or is it that I've become paranoid and can't sleep without my personal guard by my side?"

"All of it, Your Majesty. Personally I would be most concerned about the cuckolding, any heirs will need to be absolutely legitimate to avoid undermining their claim to the throne."

"Mm, yes," said Gen, apparently unconcerned. Ornon sighed. He could never tell when Eugenides had a plan and when he just had faith it would all work out. Frustratingly the two were sometimes impossible to tell apart.

"I suggest you take this journey to Eddis as an opportunity to lay rumors to rest, Your Majesty," he said. You will have several days in front of both your barons and Eddis's in which to clarify matters."

 

"Aside from inviting them into our bedroom every night I'm not sure how you expect me to do so, but I will keep your counsel in mind," Gen replied dismissively. "Now, who was it you were saying needs to be included in our retinue?"

~*~

Later that night Costis lay next to Gen, mind quiet as Gen tossed and turned a few times, trying to get comfortable.

"Did you know," Gen said after he settled on his back, "they're saying it's not me who visits Irene at night, but you?"

Costis froze. "I would never. You know I haven't."

"You must have thought about it though," Gen said softly. "I've seen the way you look at her. You love her, Costis."

It was easy enough to reply to that at least. "I do love her," Costis said. "She's my queen, she's my country. I loved you for her sake before I ever loved you for your own."

"My own charms do pale in comparison."

Costis elbowed him gently. "Don't bother acting modest with me."

"You know, you'll be part of our personal guard on the way to Eddis and we'll be sharing a bedroom for once," Gen said. Costis wasn't sure if this was a change of subject or not.

"I suppose I'll sleep with the guards then," he said.

"You don't have to. You could sleep with us."

A shiver tingled down Costis's spine, part fear, part excitement. "I couldn't," he hissed, as if Gen had said something blasphemous. "Not with the queen!"

"I'd like it," Gen said easily. Even in the dark Costis could see him smile. It made him look boyish and innocent. "Irene would too."

Costis rolled toward Gen so he could hide his face in a pillow. "I couldn't," he said again. It was not the first time it had been suggested. Gen had realized early on that Costis was refusing his advances for no other reason than because he thought Attolia would object. All Gen's reassurances had been for nothing until Attolia herself had come into his bedroom and personally given her blessing, and even then Costis had been incredulous that it wasn't some kind of test or trick.

"Do you really believe Irene would have encouraged this if she didn't have some feelings for you too? We are both jealous people, Costis. We each want you for our own. Irene is just more patient than I am, and she knew you'd be too scared for either of us if she insisted on going first."

Costis had no reply to that. His own heartbeat echoed in his chest as he thought about what Gen was suggesting. It was too much to think about or hope for, a nobody guardsman like him didn't deserve to lay his hands on the queen. But if she were in front of him, and willing, he knew he'd be unable to deny himself.

"The rumors would never stop if we did that," Costis said after a long moment of silence. "I'll sleep with the guards."

The journey one man could complete in a day and a night turned into a three day trek with an entire royal party in tow. They stayed the first night in a small but richly appointed house half a day’s ride from the palace. Gen had probably mentioned the name of the landowner offhandedly several weeks ago but Costis had already forgotten it, and he was too busy organizing the installation of the palace guards in what appeared to be a converted grain shed to learn it again.

Costis went to sleep as soon as he’d eaten, exhausted from a long day of travel and grateful he wasn’t on duty that night to prop up a wall in the ballroom as Their Majesties were entertained. When he was shaken awake in the middle of the night he jumped to reach his sword, then had the sleep-addled thought that it wasn’t time for dog watch yet. He blinked awake and realized it was neither an attack nor his turn for watch duty, but a messenger boy, who told him Their Majesties requested he guard their room personally that night.

Costis splashed cold water on his face and pulled his armor on with ill grace. Gen wasn’t usually so petty as to punish him for refusing a favor by giving him extra midnight guard duty. And he’d be on his feet all day tomorrow with only a few hours of sleep.

The boy showed him to the right room. There were four Attolian guards there already, and two more in the livery of the house. Costis took a rifle from one of the Attolians and relieved him for the night, taking up his post just to one side of the door.

He had just settled into the blank state of alertness it took to get through hours of staring at nothing when he heard a familiar “Ohh!” on the other side of the door. He knew that sound from countless nights in Gen’s arms. And it would be like Gen to tease him for refusing a night in his bed by making sure Costis heard him with his wife. Costis realized then that he’d never guarded Gen in the queen’s bedroom before - The Queen’s Guard did that - and Gen never slept with her in his bedroom. In the flat silence of the sleeping household Costis could hear even the softest noises through the door behind him. He half expected theatrical moaning to really rub his nose in what he was missing, but there was nothing so obvious. Just the rustle of sheets, a quiet but rhythmic creaking of old furniture. Gen’s soft noises, the ones he made when he was too caught up in his partner to notice he was moaning into their kisses. The steady slap of skin on skin, the bed creaking again, and then one beautiful, agonized ‘oh!’ that Costis knew wasn’t Gen at all.

He blushed, aroused despite himself. Listening in on Gen was one thing, but listening in on the queen was another, even if Gen had engineered it on purpose. Costis glanced at the other guards, gratified that at least he wasn’t the only one who looked embarrassed to have heard Their Majesties’ private moments. He tensed, waiting for another round of lovemaking, but the silence stretched into minutes, and then hours, and then guard squad on duty for dog watch relieved him of his post. Costis stumbled back to bed, where he could catch a precious few minutes of sleep before they had to prepare for the day’s journey, and fell asleep with the memory of the queen’s voice still ringing in his ears.

Costis wasn’t pushed into surprise guard duty again during their journey, but for the rest of the trip to Eddis, the two weeks they spent at the palace, and the three days travel back, he was inexplicably scheduled to guard the king and queen much more often than normal. Gen never made a show of it and never mentioned it in the morning. Nevertheless, whenever Costis was standing in front of their door he couldn’t help thinking about the two of them together, and what it might be like to make it three.

Back in Attolia, Gen wasted no time in proposing he join them again.

"Come with me tonight Costis,” Gen said.

Costis looked at him, trying to see if this was some kind of joke or set up, but as far as he could tell Gen was sincere. And after weeks with the two of them in Eddis, his resolve finally broke.

"The queen knows you're doing this?" he asked, one last hope of a graceful way to avoid this terrifying pleasure.

"Irene would very much like to see you too."

Costis steeled himself, and nodded.

Gen led them through the back passages and unused corridors to the queen's chambers, making sure to avoid anyone who might see them. One of the queen's attendants sat outside the last door, but said nothing as Costis followed Gen through. Inside Attolia sat at the edge of her bed, still in her evening dress and robes but with her hair undone and her face washed for bed.

"Costis," she acknowledged him.

Costis mutely bowed his head.

"Tonight is for you two," Gen said behind him. "Get to know her, Costis. Learn her body the way you've learned mine and I've learned yours. Love her in body the way you love her in spirit. Are you ready?"

Costis let out a shuddering breath. "No," he said. "But I never will be."

Gen lead him to Attolia, pressed him down to sit less than an arm’s length away from her on the bed, then went to his wife. He kissed her sweetly, closing his eyes for a moment as she closed hers. They looked like any pair of young lovers in that moment, Costis thought, without the weight of a country on their backs. As Costis watched, Gen undressed her with tenderness and care, removing each piece of clothing one by one, untying strings and unhooking buttons. Gold jewelry and red silk fell away to reveal pale skin as he worked with a pickpocket’s deft hand, laying each piece carefully on a nearby chair as he went.

When Gen was done, Irene lay back on the bed, bare except for her ruby earrings, and looked up at Costis.

"Come here," she said gently.

Costis shivered, but he couldn’t bring himself to move until Gen broke the silence.

"Worship her," Gen whispered in his ear.

In a daze, Costis moved closer, shifting up on the bed to sit hip to hip with his queen. He leaned down, trembling a little, thinking as he did so of the first - and so far only - time when he'd held her in his arms, the few moments after her faint. She'd been so warm, so human. It had been such a strange moment he sometimes didn't believe his own memory, and even now with her spread out in front of him, Costis had a brief thought that kissing her would be like kissing marble.

Of course it wasn't. He leaned down and kissed her firmly on the lips, feeling nothing but warmth and softness. She opened under him, kissing back, but otherwise stayed still. It was clear she was making Costis take the lead, as much as it would have been easier for him if she were the one in charge. He deepened the kiss, finally gasping a little when he remembered to breathe. He blinked his eyes opened as he broke the kiss and leaned back, not realizing until then that he’d let them fall closed. He could feel her eyes on him but didn’t quite dare to look up and meet her gaze, he felt he’d lose his nerve if he did so.

Supporting his weight so he hovered over her Costis moved lower to her kiss her jaw, felt her pulse flutter under his lips as he kissed her neck, then continued down across her smooth skin. He listened to her breath and watched her chest rise and fall as he left a lingering kiss on her breastbone, over her heart, between her lungs. His own heartbeat thundered in his ears as he sat back and ran a firm hand down each of her arms, catching her hands in his and bringing them together in front of him to kiss each finger, then the palms.

He felt Gen settle behind him, his clever hand pulling off his belt, then tugging up his tunic. He let go of Attolia to let Gen pull his tunic off over his head, then tugged his drawers off. Costis kept his gaze down the whole time, still marveling at Attolia in front of him. With his clothes off it felt more intimate, less like he was intruding in her bed, and he finally dared to meet her eyes. He found her looking carefully up and down, a small smile on her lips.

“He looks very strong,” she said playfully to Gen, who snorted.

“I beat him every day at fencing,” he told her.

Irene shifted on the bed and settled into a more comfortable lounge. She looked Costis over again, then raked her eyes down Gen’s lithe form. “I bet he’d win at wrestling, if you played fair.”

“That’s a big if,” Gen said, sharing a knowing look with her that Costis couldn’t decipher.

“Is that what you want, My Queen?” Costis said, more daring than he knew he could be. “Gen wrestled to submission? Or,” he prayed his voice wouldn’t shake. “Or I could wrestle you. Hold you down. Pick you up and take you wherever I wanted.”

He knew it was a lie. He could never do anything to Attolia she didn’t want, he didn’t have it in him. If by some whim of the Gods he willingly tried to move against her, he knew she would stop him herself if she even had a chance before Gen got there. But tonight in this room together, they could pretend.

“You wouldn’t take me anywhere I didn’t want to go,” she said, looking him in the eye. “But if I wanted to go with you, if you took me somewhere secret, away from the palace, then what.”

“I could hold you down,” Costis said, his mouth dry. He straddled her, slowly lowered himself over her body to pin him with his weight.

“And if I let you hold me down, then what.”

“I - “ Costis choked out. She was small and hot under him, pressing against him groin and chest, running a hand up his arms where he braced on his elbows. He knew what he’d do if she wanted what he wanted, but there were more than just the two of them in this room. He looked over at Gen, just past them on the bed. Gen smiled at them both with frank fondness in his eyes.

“What would you do, Costis?” he asked.

“I’d - I’d make love to you,” he said, talking to Attolia but looking at Gen. “But I can’t, I can’t risk - you could get pregnant,” he stammered, thoughts racing.

Gen waved his hand airily. “She has a pessary that protects against it. Otherwise she’d have been with child months ago.”

Costis looked from him to Attolia - no, Irene, mute with the enormity of what he was being offered.

She smiled at him and whispered again, “What would you do?”

He exhaled a long, shuddering breath and reached between them, sliding his hand down over her belly, through soft hair to where she was hot and wet between her legs. He stroked gently, feeling her slick coat his fingers as she shifted and arched against him. He kissed her again when she let out a soft little sigh, drinking her in, and slipped two fingers into her cunt.

“I’d make love to you,” he said again, so softly she might not have heard it if he hadn’t whispered it right into her skin.

She wrapped her hands around his back and held him close as he entered her, shuddering more at the knowledge of what he was doing than the feeling of her clutched around his cock. This wasn’t some sweetheart Costis had wooed back home during haymaking, or even Eugenides, as overwhelming as that relationship could be. Tonight was about Irene, not Attolia, but Costis couldn’t help but love her as more than just a woman, even now.

Still she was a woman. Tonight had, as Gen intended, hammered that point home. And Costis would be damned if he let her think he couldn’t please a woman in bed. He stroked her again, found the nub next to where he thrust into her and rubbed gently in time to his movements. Irene hummed with pleasure and rocked into him, setting their pace. Costis focused on her reactions to stave off his own release, listening for when her breath hitched and trying his best to keep up with her. After a few minutes she clutched at him, urging him faster.

“Costis,” she moaned, softly, privately. And then the same short “Oh!” of pleasure that had finally changed his mind.

He buried his face in the arc of her shoulder and tried to breathe as she clenched around him.

“Irene,” he pleaded, unable to say anything else.

“Come for me, Costis,”

He let himself go, thrusting deep only a few times before his rhythm grew erratic and he spilled himself inside her.

As he eased himself off her and collapsed to her side, Gen tossed a cloth between them. Costis started a little. In the moment he’d forgotten Gen was even there.

“What about you?” he asked Gen, as Irene discretely wiped his come from between her legs and handed the cloth over for him to clean himself up.

“I’ll get the both of you when you’re good and rested,” Gen said. “There’s sleeping clothes in the chest there,” he added, gesturing.

Costis was too used to Gen to be surprised when there was clothing in his size next to Gen’s nightshirts in the chest. He dressed, watching Irene put her own nightshirt on out of the corner of his eye, then returned to the bed, unsure of where he was welcome here.

Seeing him hesitate, Irene and Gen both smiled and tugged him down to the bed between them, settling comfortably to either side.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” Costis said sleepily.

“Poor Costis,” Gen mocked, but with gentle fondness. “Poor Costis, to be loved so much.”

“Poor me indeed,” he said. “You’ll wear me out between you.”

“You’ll enjoy every minute of it,” Irene promised, and sealed his fate with a kiss.