He was alone. An entire room to himself, with a fireplace in the corner, and a soft bed piled high with layers of quilts and knitted blankets taking up more than half of the floor space.
Vanyel's gaze flickered to the door, as he waited for inn keeper to return and tell him no, actually, his room was in the stables, have a rock-hard piece of bread as an apology for the mistake. The cheery inn master failed to reappear, the door as solidly shut as it'd been ten seconds ago when he'd been shoved into the room, had Honoured Herald Mage sir! shouted at his back, and the door shut behind him.
Warily, he let his saddlebags slip out of his fingers, searching the cozy little room for some blatant flaw that would explain why he'd been led to it. Behind the fireplace--an alcove! Vanyel lunched, knife in hand and mage energies crackling at his fingertips, and almost fell into the copper tub, built tidily into the same red brick of the fireplace. There was a hole in the bottom, plugged with a cork like a wine bottle.
A bath. Its own private bath--Vanyel spied a pipe, coming out the side of the chimney. He touched it, and found it warm. If there is water, I can heat it myself , he thought, giving the bath an incredulous glance. It looked like--like a smaller version of the cauldron baths Haven. He hadn't seen such luxury in what felt like decades.
A sharp rap on the door, and Vanyel flinched from the bath, lurching back toward the door, graceful as a crippled mule. "Yes?"
"Honoured Herald Mage! We are most grateful to host you!"
What the fuck. "Thank you," Vanyel said. He should open the door. It was only polite... "The bath here, is there any chance it could be filled with water, sir?" Vanyel didn't open the door.
The inn master twittered like a bird. "The pipes connect to a cistern in the attic, Honoured Herald Mage! Would you like me to show you how they work? It should be lovely and warm by now!"
"No. No I'm sure I can...thank you." A bath... The heat of the room made Vanyel feel twice as cold, but the thought of a bath...No one would begrudge him taking advantage of that, would they?
Yfandes failed utterly to take him to task. Permission! Vanyel snuck another look at the tub, thinking of how incredibly disgusting he was right now. He'd scrubbed off the mud, but he reeked of sweat and swamp.
"When you have finished washing yourself, Herald Mage sir, the bath drains when you remove the cork! May I please help you with anything else?"
The inn master was older than his father. Vanyel had no idea why he kept calling Vanyel 'sir'. "Is there, uh. Soap?" he asked. :Yfandes?: he called, suddenly worried that it was a trap. They'd probably light him on fire while he slept if he took a bath.
Vanyel got a muddled impression of intent interest and lust from her, and suddenly remembered that she'd been eyeing a stallion when they'd ridden up. Hastily, he slammed his shields back up.
I'm sure it's not sinister, he decided. He was just being foolish. This inn was a very popular one, and there was at least one other Herald here--doubtless more senior than Vanyel, because who wasn't--so obviously it was safe.
"Soap is on the mantle, Honoured Herald Mage!"
"Thanks." Vanyel had a thought--a ridiculous, spend-thrift, extravagant thought. "Could you bring a meal up in about an hour?" he asked. Yfandes was distracted, she couldn't tell him to go down and get his own meals from the common room. Vanyel could--he could do whatever he wanted!
"Oh yes, Honoured Herald Mage! It would be no trouble, Sir, I will deliver your meal myself!"
Vanyel's mouth curved into an entirely unfamiliar grin. "Oh that would be wonderful, thank you so much!"
"Oh you are too kind Honoured Herald Mage sir, much, much too kind!" Vanyel heard the inn master scurry away from his door, leaving him completely alone. No Yfandes in his head, no Savil next door--he really could do whatever he wanted. Wow .
He could--Vanyel went to the bath, poking at the pipe above it until he found a little lever to pull. Water poured into the tub, sending lazy clouds of steam into the air. Vanyel looked up, found a neatly wrapped bar of soap on the mantel as just below eye level, and grasped it with a reverence that would have embarrassed him two years ago.
Vanyel stripped, filthy whites falling where he left them, and leaned over to test the water--perfect, it was perfect--and poured himself into the tub with a happy sigh. Gods he was dirty. Mother wouldn't even recognize him like this, all grungy and--Vanyel stroked his chin, found a few bristly hairs--and just covered in stubble. He unfolded the fine white washcloth and dampened it, and started scrubbing off two months of road grime. Baths were scarce as hens teeth in the Holderkin lands.
Three more days and his circuit would be over. Vanyel could hardly believe it. They'd even arrived early at the inn, and there was another Herald here who could do whatever people wanted Heralds for--Vanyel could stay in his room for the entire night .
He dunked his head under the stream of water, then scrubbed the lavender scented soap into it, rubbing until suds were dripping down his arms and chest. Vanyel rinsed, and then washed it all again.
He smelled like flowers. Vanyel reached up to turn off the water, preparing to soak--and his gaze caught on the grimey grey bathwater he was sitting in. Nasty. Vanyel sighed, and got out, unwilling to simmer in his own filth.
He flipped the level back, cutting off the wonderful, clean stream of water. Glanced at the door, half-expecting someone to charge in and tell him to make do with what he had. No one appeared, and Vanyel's smile grew so wide that it hurt his face. He pulled the bath plug and watched it drain out.
Vanyel looked out the window, calculating how long he had until the inn master brought his dinner. Long enough , he decided, flipping the level again to rinse out the tub. He stuck the plug back in and watched it refill, grinning almost manically. He was going to soak until he turned into a prune .
The fire crackled, radiating warmth over his skin, and Vanyel crouched in front of it while he waited for the tub to refill, his hair dripping onto the flagstone. He saw towels, tidily set by the window, but Vanyel didn't want to wet them just yet. After his second bath.
He basked like a snake in the sun, muscles that hadn't relaxed since he'd left Haven in the fall going soft as putty. I hate winter, Vanyel decided, and Holderkin, barn cats, kittens, and especially barn cats giving birth to kittens in my saddlebags. Also hard tack. And jerky. And--dirty clothes-- .
The whites he'd left in a heap in front of the bath seemed to glare at him accusingly. They were his last whole set, free of holes, tears, blood stains, and kitten afterbirth. They also stank like he'd worn them for three weeks non-stop. Which, to be fair, he had.
I should wash those, Vanyel decided. But later. He rose and turned off the water, and stepped into the tub. The sound he made--Vanyel flushed, a half-there memory of making that same sound when Tylendel had fucked him for the first time--Vanyel swallowed it down, and determinedly didn't think about it. He was having a good day. No need to be sad when he was having a good day.
No need to be sad when the water felt so incredibly good, either. Vanyel stretched like a cat, the strain of being in the saddle for days and days easing out of him. Gods it felt good.
Knocking at the door woke him, and Vanyel flew upright, splashing water everywhere and slipping on the tub base. He caught himself on the fireplace, the bathwater sloshing around his calves like waves on Lake Evendim.
He rubbed his eyes, wondering how long he'd slept, and called out, "Yes?"
"I have brought you the meal you requested, Honoured Herald Mage!"
The inn master, of course, Vanyel remembered belatedly. "Thank you. You can leave it outside the door, I'll be a couple moments--" Towels, he needed a towel--Vanyel snatched the top one from the table by the window, and quickly dried himself before he wrapped it around his waist.
He cracked the door, peering out to check for people who might want to have long, tedious discussions about their grandfather's land rights with him, and found the hall empty. Vanyel eased the door a little wider, and found the tray that had been left for him. He studied it avidly, noting fresh bread, butter, preserved fruits, a bowl of some kind of stew--and a crock of ale.
Vanyel reached down to take the tray, his stomach suddenly aching with hunger.
"Enjoy your meal, sir!"
"Gah!" Vanyel nearly leapt out of his skin, flinching back into the room as he realized that the inn master had been standing behind the door the entire time. "Holy--"
"Speciality of the house," he added, giving Vanyel a cryptic wink.
Vanyel dispersed the mage energies he'd gathered into the fireplace, a jet of flame rocketing up the chimney with a dull roar. "You shouldn't have," he said. "Been in Holderkin land for the last four months--I'm pleased enough with anything."
The inn master's eyes brightened, and his face filled with wretched sympathy. "Oh dear Herald Mage, how terrible!"
"It wasn't that bad," Vanyel lied, hovering behind the door to preserve his modesty, yet oddly reluctant to close it. This was the most sympathy he'd gotten in--ever. He knew he shouldn't--the inn master was just trying to gain Vanyel's support for some pet project or another, Vanyel wasn't dumb enough to have missed that, and yet...
"I will bring you a second pitcher of ale--wine? Brandy, perhaps. No man should be made to suffer so," the inn master declared, clapping his pudgy little hands together and bowing. "And should you need anything else, just ask!"
Vanyel watched him bustle away, and felt a reluctant fondness growing. This is how bribery and corruption start, he thought grimly, tightening the towel around his hips and venturing into the hall to take the tray of food. Letting people be nice to you, enjoying it--I should really know better.
He took the ale, though. It'd be a shame to waste it.
Vanyel wrung out his shirt for the third time, and draped it across the chair he'd dragged in front of the fireplace. It wasn't exactly white--more a mottled cream, but he might be recognized at a Herald in them, and that was good enough. He poured himself another cup to congratulate himself on how responsible he was being, this time filling it with the red wine the inn master had left in front of the door. The ale was gone, drunk with his meal, and it'd gone down very smooth.
The sun was well set, and in spite of his relaxation, mild inebriation, and bone deep exhaustion, Vanyel wasn't actually tired. He lowered his shields carefully, checking for Yfandes--and slammed them back up when he felt the burgeoning edge of her pleasure, and a phantom impression of the weight on her back, and the huge--
"Shit," Vanyel muttered, blushing a deeper red than the wine in his mug. He wasn't that lonely.
He finished the cup, and refilled it, pacing the narrow room restlessly. He couldn't go down to the common room--he'd washed everything he owned, and the towel was not a very large towel. He'd read all the books he'd brought five times over by now, and the thought of reading any of them again filled him with boredom. Yfandes was clearly busy.
Vanyel's eyes flickered toward the bed, untouched still. It was big enough for two, maybe even three. And it looked sinfully comfortable and warm. He banished the idea lurking in the back of his mind, embarrassed to even be thinking it.
It's not like there's anything else to do, Vanyel thought, a nd Yfandes is surely too distracted to notice... He drank from his cup and found it dry. The fluted pitcher of wine the inn master had left was empty now, and Vanyel hesitated, looking into his mug. It was a fairly large mug. How much have I had?
He hadn't drunk anything more potent than weak beer in six months, because Holderkin saw intoxication as a sin. And before that, well. Aunt Savil had opinions on how much a Herald and a Mage should drink, and those opinions amounted to being no better than a sip here and there.
Have I truly not been properly drunk since before Father sent me to Haven? Vanyel thought on it, and realized that between--everything that had happened--and they'd sent him out on circuit only five months after Savil had brought him back from the Pelagirs. How strange.
Vanyel finished the mug in a fit of petty rebellion, and set it on the table with the remains of the meal that had been brought up.
He swayed, slowly, looking back to the soft, inviting bed. If Yfandes could fuck the first stallion she found, then there wasn't really anything wrong with him just...Vanyel licked his lips, chasing the last tastes of the wine, his hand coming to rest on the knot holding the towel on his hips.
It fell open, the towel slipping off his hips, but caught at the front. Vanyel glanced down and unhooked it, setting the towel on the side of the empty tub.
It was a little embarrassing, but it wasn't as though he couldn't . Vanyel checked the door lock, found it still locked, and gave the bed another slow, sideways look. He pulled back the top sheets, and found fresh, clean linens, silky smooth to his touch.
He needed--Vanyel studied the piled blankets, and chose a quilt patterned in blues and whites, and tugged it free, setting it over the white sheets. He looked around the room again, absurdly guilty and more than a little dizzy, and opened his shields just a crack.
Good, she's still-- Vanyel flushed, undeniably aroused at the phantom sense of being fucked by a cock as long as his torso. He set his shields back up, silently vowing to never, ever hint to Yfandes--gods he was disgusting. Vanyel hooked a finger in the strap of his saddlebags, dragging them over.
He found the bottle he'd packed six months ago, in spite of its utter uselessness on circuit. It was white glazed ceramic, about a hand and a half in length and just wide enough that Vanyel's fingertips touched when he held it by the neck. At the base it widened considerably, allowing room for the cure-all snake oil salve that filled it.
Vanyel popped the cork out and sniffed it. Whatever oil that comprised the bulk of the salve hadn't turned, and it still smelled slightly of some kind of flowers. He tipped out a bit into his palm, and found it slick and milky white, almost obscenely so.
His lip stung, and Vanyel realized that he was biting it. It's not so bad. The mouth of the bottle widened, spread open to fit in the width of the cork, and Vanyel's breath caught in his chest. It's not wrong, he told himself, pressing the cork back in.
He set the bottle on the flagstones by the bed, and settled on the quilt he'd spread over the sheets, the salve cupped carefully in his hand. It wouldn't do to spill. He lay back, dragging the thick weight of the blankets on top of himself with his clean hand, and then--after a second's consideration--rolled onto his stomach. Soft, he thought, squirming into the quilt. It was like lying on silk after so many months of not even undressing to sleep.
The salve coated his hand, made his fingers slick, and Vanyel reached behind himself to slide a finger inside himself--
It's not the same. Vanyel's hand was cold and--boring. Nothing like Tylendel's touch.
Vanyel thumped his head into the pillows, frustrated beyond measure. Was this the rest of his life? Just feeling nothing ?
The tears streaking his face were born out of the raw frustration at a year and a half of feeling like he'd died with 'Lendel. Couldn't he have some tiny bit of pleasure back? Something to make him feel less dead ? 'Lendel was gone, but Vanyel wasn't!
"Fuck," he whispered, wiping his hand clean on his hip, and pillowing his forehead on his arms. He knew it was whining, he knew he should just keep trying to get along, but it just wasn't fair .
He stewed in angry self-pity for as long as he could stand, listening to the distant sound of the wind in the courtyard, the creak of the inn settling. It was self-indulgent and selfish of him, but Vanyel couldn't bring himself to regret it. The sorrow dimmed, lessened by him daring to feel it, and that, too, Vanyel could not regret.
He heard a bell chime twelve, the day officially gone, the world outside this room surely a dull and sombre moonlit silver.
A breath of air on the back of his neck made him shiver, and the sense that he wasn't alone had Vanyel sitting up and wiping the tears from his eyes. He saw nothing to explain the presence he felt, the room dim in the dying firelight but free of any shadow large enough to contain a person.
Vanyel fetched a log into the fireplace with a thought, prodding it until it caught fire, and bit his lip thoughtfully. "Hello?" he whispered into the expectant silence.
The fire popped unexpectedly, and Vanyel jumped, looking to it and seeing the vaguest suggestion of a familiar face, disappearing as soon as he looked upon it. He smiled uncertainly, wondering--no, it could not be. But if it was...
His next breath was unsteady, catching a bit in his throat. The dull ache in him twitched sharply, a reminder of his earlier plans, and Vanyel blushed bright red. It cannot be--
A lock of his hair fell forward over his collarbone, soft as a caress. Vanyel closed his eyes and lay back on the blue and white quilt. The piled blankets only reached to his knees, leaving the rest of him bare. "'Lendel," he murmured, soft as a dream, and finally, finally felt...something.
Not my hands, he thought, collecting his focus. Vanyel reached above his head, crossing his wrists and pinning them to the bed with an invisible band of force. He licked his lips, trembling as he waited. Not him. But--if I were in the street. And Yfandes was somewhere else. And--someone caught my wrist and pulled me into an alley, and he turned me to face the wall so I couldn't see his face--
A scent as familiar as his own teased him, and Vanyel's eyelashes grew wet again even as he imagined a thick length, hidden under the quilt beneath him, pressing forcefully against his lower back. Taller than me. I can't fight, there's--threats, I don't know, I can't fight. I don't fight.
Vanyel spread his legs in response to an imagined order, and made the thickness under him thrust against him through the barrier of the quilt, the shaft caught in the valley of his ass, threateningly huge. Oh gods, he's going to-- Vanyel tossed his head in mute protest, half the quilt rising from the sheets to toss over his front.
"Don't look, Van." And the band around his wrists squeezed, as though trying to reassure him-- The man's free hand came around Vanyel, lifting his tunic above his belt and cupping his shamefully hard cock, squeezing balls pulled tight to his body from fear--it had to be fear-- Vanyel gave a surprised gasp, rocking up into the warm hand that had grasped him through the quilt. He was--oh fuck, his cock was dripping into the quilt, and the thick shaft at his back was pressing at his entrance, as though it meant to fuck him through the blanket and clothes, driving the cloth into Vanyel with his cock.
"Please," Vanyel begged softly, into a silence that he couldn't quite forget. The entrance of the alley wasn't far--anyone could look in and see Vanyel pinned up against the wall, moaning and grinding up against his attacker like he was in heat. His wrists were suddenly released, and his attacker spoke, "Get on your hands and knees and I've give you what you're begging for."
Vanyel flipped onto his front, hands pressed into the pillow, his face and mouth pressed into the quilt and his ass raised up in eager offering. His pants slid down his thighs, leaving his ass bared to all who might pass by. Vanyel couldn't fight this, not without consequences, couldn't do anything but kneel before this stranger and let himself be fucked.
He tightened his concentration before he slid an invisible bar of force inside himself, stretching his entrance in preparation. Vanyel slid his hand under the quilt, and reached up to grope himself through the thin layer of his-- tunic. He was being stretched, his ass spread open on some stranger's thumb, spread open for the first time in--a long time. The stranger pulled out, spitting into Vanyel's hole and pressed three fingers back in. "God, you're so eager, Van--been a little lonely?"
His hips were twitching into the soft cotton of the quilt, pushing back into the thickness inside him, and Vanyel could just imagine what he must look like to any observer-- A hushed gasp, and the sound of someone rushing away, but Vanyel couldn't think on that, not with the prick forcing its way inside him, with little regard for his comfort--fuck, it was so big!--a hand wrapped around his balls, still wet from being inside him, and Vanyel couldn't possibly fight this--
The flask of salve slid into him easily, hard and just thick enough to make him ache as he took it. Vanyel pushed it in as far as he dared, deep enough that the swell of the base was almost inside him. He thrust against his palm, into the blanket, tightening his body around the unyielding ceramic length trapped inside him. Gods this was perverted.
The bottle twitched inside him, and began to thrust. Vanyel moaned into the bed, back arching as he enjoyed the slick slide of it inside him, the sense of being fucked amazing , almost hurting, but so much better for that 'almost'. "Just a little more," he murmured quietly, terrified that someone might hear through the thin walls of the inn, but needing to say it-- Vanyel rolled his hips back, helplessly aroused by the cock inside him. It was so good--so thick and warm, opening him wide enough to hurt and just using Vanyel's body like Vanyel might use his hand. No love, just some stranger fucking him--
A startled sound escaped Vanyel's throat as the man behind him pulled him upright, dragging Vanyel into his lap and burying his cock even deeper. "Ride me, Van. Show me how good you are at this."
Ride--? Vanyel shifted his weight, bringing his feet under him for leverage. His attacker had gripped his hips, was gently urging him upward, up until Vanyel felt the tip of the stranger's cock teasing his entrance. If he rose any higher, he'd be empty, no one inside him, and that--Vanyel sank down, taking the cock to the hilt, and then did it again. His attacker spread Vanyel's buttocks apart, watching his cock disappear in Vanyel's willing hole, and Vanyel wanted to beg--just a little more, a little deeper, and it'd be enough--
Vanyel pressed his cock into the quilt, thrusting against it as he used his fetching gift to fuck his ass with a bottle of cheap snake oil. Sweat streaked down his chest, and he was so incredibly close--
Vanyel felt the wet spurt of his attacker's orgasm, filling Vanyel with his semen as he slammed into him one last time. He whimpered, knowing that he'd given the man what he'd asked for, let his body provide pleasure--and it wasn't Vanyel's fault, he'd had no choice--and climaxed, his body tightening around the thick cock inside it, squeezing every last drop of cum from it.
"Gods Van, you look so beautiful like this."
Vanyel shuddered into the blanket, spilling his seed on the cheerful blue and white patterns. His skin sang, pleasure stretching him into a softer shape, relaxation filling him until he slumped bonelessly into the quilt he'd abused.
He stroked the cotton blanket in vague apology, slowly getting his breathing back under control.
He jolted awake, halfway to sitting before he realized that there was something stuck up his--Vanyel flushed deep red and shielded his mind like his life depended on it. He reached behind himself, extracted the offending item, and discovered his second problem.
"What in Valdemar's name--" his stomach was blue. Vanyel peeled off the lovely blue and white quilt, revealing that the blue smears extended down to his thighs--he could see the damned paisley.
The blanket was as stained as he was, white squares turned purple by the--liquids--
"Oh shit," he whispered, Yfandes knocking on his mental shield growing impatient, the room well lit with dawn's early light, and they were meant to leave right now .
Vanyel rolled to his feet, and realized that he had no choice. He'd ruined it. He must--it was a matter of honour, he must do the honourable thing.
The Inn Master's face filled with polite puzzlement, and Vanyel stared at the wall behind the man's ear, blanket tied to Yfandes' saddle behind him. "The quilt, Honoured Herald Mage?"
"Yes." Vanyel cursed himself for failing to follow his first instinct and disappear with it, silently stealing the evidence of his debauchery.
"My daughter pieced it. She is only ten, sir, but very talented."
"It is a very nice blanket."
"That you must requisition for the Queen."
Yfandes' curiosity was so strong that Vanyel's skin crawled with it, but he refused to let her know. He couldn't bear--no. She absolutely couldn't know. "Yes."
"I will get my daughter, that she might know that her work has aided Valdemar!" he said, his round face beaming at Vanyel. "For some mighty spell, no doubt! Oh, she will be so happy!"
"I must leave. Right now. But left her know that her work is very appreciated, and--uh--that the kingdom of Valdemar couldn't have done it without her," Vanyel said, raising his hand to stop the Inn Master from saying anything else.
:Yfandes, come on--:
:Not until you tell me why.: she told him, ear flicking back lazily, not even twitching toward the gate.
:I--I wrecked it. I have to take it.: Vanyel felt like he was dying, crushed by the weight of his own impending humiliation. The Inn Master was staring at him, waiting expectantly, and Vanyel's attempts to retreat into the ice were not successful . :Please Yfandes--:
She snorted, scraping her hoof on the flagstones, the sound ringing like a bell, and refused to move.
:I'll do anything you want if you leave right now. Anything.: Vanyel promised recklessly, his mask starting to slip.
The bard's playing skipped a note, but Vanyel didn't notice, staring deep into the cup of wine that had been refilled possibly more often than it had ought to have been that night.
Vanyel looked up, smiling with the amusement that twenty odd years separation had given him. He clearly his throat, smiling wryly. "And that's the blanket story in a nutshell."
Stef was staring, and Vanyel remembered, belatedly and somewhat drunkenly, that Stef had probably never considered that someone as old as Vanyel might have once--damn it, Vanyel'd gone and been inappropriate again.
"Do you still have the blanket?"
His gaze went to Vanyel's bed, and Vanyel felt himself blushing. "I--" Stef's eyes were sparkling, full of youthful innocence, and Vanyel wondered when he was going to learn to keep his stupid mouth shut. "Well I couldn't just get rid of it."