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“And how does one operate this… stress-relieving massager?” Maia asked, curiosity alight in his eyes as he watched Merrem Halezho delicately handle the strange clockwork device, turning it this way and that to show it off to him.

When she had requested a private audience with him, he had not expected the meeting to be focused on a new invention hers, and was delighted by the surprise. Even more to his delight, Merrem Halezho had created it specifically for him as a gift for his assistance with getting the Wisdom Bridge project heard and ultimately approved by the Corazhas. He was glad he had chosen to see her in the relative comfort of the Tortoise Room rather than the echoing halls of the Michentheileian, as the much more intimate and private setting allowed him to view the interesting device much more closely than he would have been able to atop the throne.

Maia could see that the device was primarily composed of a long piece of brushed brass pipe, one end covered in ornately carved wood to provide a handle. Attached at the other end was a round and flattened piece of metal covered in fine leather. In the middle was a bulky hand crank with another beautifully carved wooden handle and a compartment that housed the inner clockworkings that powered the device.

“Easily, Serenity,” Merrem Halezho said, pride clear in her voice. Earlier she had explained that while the gift was from the Clocksmith’s Guild of Zhaö, she had crafted it herself. “If you would hold out your arm, we can provide you with a demonstration.”

Maia began to do as she requested, but in an instant Beshelar was between him and Merrem Halezho, and Cala looked intent on intervening as well, even from across the room by the doorway.

“Merrem, we think not!” Beshelar said in an explosion of disapproval.

“Beshelar, what--” Maia began.

Gently interrupting from his seat at the table beside Maia, Csevet said, “Serenity, Lieutenant Beshelar’s instincts are correct. It would be more prudent for Merrem Halezho to demonstrate on someone else first, so that we may determine the safety of this device before it is applied to your imperial person.”

Slowly, Maia subsided, though he could not help the press of his lips that showed his displeasure. He greatly wished to feel the effects of this massager himself, but he could not argue with the prudence of Csevet’s words. He could wait for his chance to try it.

With a wry smile rising to his lips, Maia met Beshelar’s eyes. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to volunteer, Lieutenant?”

He saw the minute widening of Beshelar’s eyes before he bowed deeply and said, “Yes, of course, Serenity.”

Stiffly, Beshelar held out his own arm to Merrem Halezho, his gaze flicking warily to the device only once before he set his jaw and became stone-faced, his back held ramrod straight. Maia almost wanted to laugh. Beshelar feared neither blade nor battle, but it seemed clear that this device discomfited him quite a bit.

“If you truly wish not to, we will not force you--”

“No!” Beshelar’s voice boomed louder than he intended. He cleared his throat, then said more quietly, “No. Our duty is to protect, and so we shall submit to this—this...”

“Massage,” said Merrem Halezho, smiling gently at Beshelar. “Perhaps it will do you some good, too, Lieutenant.”

At that, Maia had to bite his lip to keep his mirth controlled. Indeed, Beshelar was more tightly coiled than a spring most of the time, and he dared to think that Merrem Halezho was right. Beshelar could do with some stress relief just as much as Maia himself.

With that, the demonstration began. Merrem Halezho gripped the handle of the device and started to turn the crank. When it began to hum and jitter in her hands, she laid the flat end to Beshelar’s outstreched arm. He flinched as it made contact, but as the seconds went by he did not cry out in pain nor draw away. The device hummed on as Merrem Halezho worked it, and slowly Beshelar’s tightly-drawn brows began to relax infinitesimally.

“How does it feel, Beshelar?” Cala inquired, having stepped closer to view the demonstration.

“Strange,” Beshelar said. “Tingly.”

“Is it pleasant?” Maia asked.

Beshelar’s lips thinned as he thought about it. After a moment longer, he said, “It is not unpleasant.”

Merrem Halezho stopped cranking the device and withdrew it again, allowing Beshelar to lower his arm. He stared at it as though assessing the sensation still, opening and closing his hand, then shook his arm out before letting it drop to his side once more. “We are unharmed.”

“We believe you should take those comments as a compliment, Merrem Halezho,” Csevet said. Maia smiled and nodded his agreement. If Beshelar considered it ‘not unpleasant’ and decided he was unharmed despite his misgivings, it was as much praise as he was likely to give.

“Now that our prudent nohecharei and secretary are satisfied as to the device’s safety, may we try it?” Maia asked.

“Of course, Serenity,” Merrem Halezho beamed. Once more, she cranked up the device until it hummed and buzzed, then carefully applied it to Maia’s outstreched arm.

“Oh!” Maia gasped. It did tingle oddly, little frissons of vibration shooting up and down his arm, setting his nerves alight. ‘Not unpleasant’ was a fairly apt description for the feeling, in point of fact. It was fascinating!

“And this will relax us?” he asked, his gaze flickering between the device and Merrem Halezho’s face.

“When applied to sore muscles, it will massage and loosen them, providing you with relaxation, yes,” Merrem Halezho said. She was beginning to become out of breath from her exertions continuously turning the hand crank. “That is the idea.”

Maia nodded and gave her a smile. “Thank you, Merrem Halezho, you may stop. We are most pleased by this demonstration and your fine gift.”

It seemed as though her entire face lit up at this assurance. Slowly winding the device down, she bowed deeply to Maia. “The pleasure is ours, Serenity.” Gingerly, Merrem Halezho wrapped the device in a piece of soft blue velvet and settled it back into the box in which she had brought it.

Maia would have liked to examine the device further and ask many more questions as to its composition and how it worked, but time did not permit him to at that moment. It was nearly time for his luncheon, today with several members of the House of Blood in attendance. If it had been with Arbelan, Maia dared think she would not mind Merrem Halezho’s presence and likely would be fascinated by the massager too. Not so the House of Blood. The box was whisked away by Csevet while Maia said his goodbyes to Merrem Halezho, requesting that she carry his thanks and good wishes to the Clocksmith’s Guild and to her sister, Min Vechin.

All through the day, he thought about the stress-relieving massager. After luncheon, he peppered Csevet with questions and speculations as to the device’s inner workings, many of which Csevet promised to write down in a letter to Merrem Halezho to obtain answers. His curiosity was such that even during his meeting with Lord Berenar that afternoon to discuss several matters of great State importance, he could not stop thinking about it. During his riding instruction, too, he wondered about it. Would the massager relieve the aches and pains of being in the saddle for long stretches? He resolved to try it later that night.

 

“Serenity, will you not let us assist you?” Nemer asked, a note of pleading entering his voice. Maia, bathed and dressed for bed, had taken up the stress-relieving massaging device and was examining it curiously. Nemer, Esha, and Avris watched imploringly, Avris wringing his hands.

“If it is a device meant to be applied to your body to soothe you, we should be the ones to wield it for you,” Esha said.

Maia sighed, but shook his head. “We do appreciate your solicitude, but we would prefer to try it out ourself before we attempt to instruct anyone else in its use.”

Perhaps Csevet or Beshelar or Cala could also teach them, having been present at the demonstration. Truthfully, he would have liked a little assistance for the hard-to-reach places that ached, but Maia felt he could hardly make that kind of request of those who already knew how to operate the device. Such was far outside their duties.

He made his way to the huge imperial bed and climbed into it, massager in hand. All three edocharei came to tuck the Emperor in, quickly and efficiently. Nemer took Maia’s robe while Esha and Avris smoothed the thin sheet over Maia and pulled down the quilting—it was summer and too warm for anything heavier.

While they worked, Maia tried to reassure them. “Once we are satisfied we know how to use it and whether we would even like to further employ it or not, we will allow you to operate the device in our stead.”

That seemed to lighten the anxiety of his edocharei. “Thank you, Serenity,” they chorused, relief clear in their voices. “Sleep well.”

“Good night,” Maia called as Esha, Avris, and Nemer made their bows and left to find their own beds for the evening.

 

Alone save for Beshelar standing guard in the alcove of his window and Cala out in the hall, Maia finally felt at ease. He could now examine the massaging device at his leisure, and examine he did. He turned his bedside gaslight down and in the low light began to run his hands over the whole of the thing. It was heavy in his hands, the metal and wood and leather of it weighty and thick. Stars and moons were worked into the metal, studded with tiny sparkling blue sapphires and diamond chips. The wood of both the main handle and that of the crank was polished smooth and carved with comets and inlaid with gleaming moonstone. It was a work of art.

A work of art it was, and more than that. Maia drew himself entirely out of his covers and pressed the soft well-oiled leather padding on the end to the bottom of his foot, eager to see if the vibrations the device caused would in truth soothe the ache there. He had been on his feet all day, and they were tired and sore. The massager was unwieldy in his hands and he was at an awkward angle, but Maia managed to get the crank moving and soon the device was humming just as it had in Merrem Halezho’s clever hands.

Again the strange sensation of tingly pins and needles shot through him, his whole foot shaking minutely with the vibrations. Fascinated, Maia kept at it, until his whole foot felt as though it were buzzing even when the device was lifted off it. The ache did seem to have subsided, so he applied the same treatment to his other foot.

Maia continued in this fashion until his arms tired and he had to stop. His feet tingled pleasantly, as did his calves. Pausing to catch his breath, Maia set the device on the bed beside him.

“Are you well, Serenity?” Beshelar asked.

“Oh, quite,” Maia said, his gaze turning toward the place where Beshelar stood. The low light cast shadows upon him such that his face was unreadable. “We do wish we had the energy to continue or the flexibility to reach certain areas, but it shall have to wait for another night.”

It was difficult to tell in the dimness of the room, but Maia thought Beshelar looked as though he were struggling with words just upon the tip of his tongue. “Fear not, Beshelar, I shan’t ask you to do anything further. I know you were uncomfortable this afternoon, and for that I apologize.” Maia smiled softly, hoping the reassurance was enough.

Beshelar’s mouth opened and he stepped forward unconsciously. “That isn’t—we mean, Serenity, we would offer our service. We know how to work the device and have more than enough strength to operate it for as long as you desire.”

Maia watched Beshelar, brows raised. That he hadn’t expected. “It is… outside your usual duties, Lieutenant. We ought not--”

Beshelar shook his head. “It is our responsibility to protect your body. We would consider protecting it from stress to be a part of our duties too.” He held himself very straight, his jaw set in such a way that Maia knew he would brook no argument.

“Well,” Maia said. “If you insist.”

At that, Beshelar actually smiled. “We do, Serenity. If you will permit us.”

Ducking his head in a nod, Maia smiled. “We shall.”

He took up the massager again and handed it over to Beshelar. As Beshelar examined the device’s machinations and tested the crank, Maia laid himself out on the bed on his belly. “Will you massage my back, please, Lieutant?” Maia asked. “The lower the better; I find that I carry quite a bit of tension there.”

“As you wish, Serenity.”

Beshelar wasted no time. In his strong and capable hands, the machine whirred to life and set to buzzing more quickly and loudly than Maia had managed to make it do. Maia sighed as the vibrations shook through the sore muscles of his back, loosening and soothing them. True to his word, Beshelar followed Maia’s wishes and focused on his lower back. As Beshelar moved the vibrating padded leather on the small of his back slowly, slowly drawing nearer to his rear, Maia discovered that he was more sensitive there than he had ever imagined. His nerves sparked and he could not resist arching his back up into the sensation, as a gasp was drawn from his lips.

“Are you all right, Serenity?” Beshelar asked in alarm as he drew back the device.

“Ohh, yes! Don’t stop.” Maia’s hands, which had clenched into fists in the bedsheets, relaxed again at the loss of contact. His lower back was tingling. Dimly, he was aware that he ought to feel ashamed of his reactions, but it felt so good he couldn’t quite bring himself to care at that moment. “You are doing more good than you know, Beshelar.”

Beshelar made a low noise of assent and continued his ministrations, more carefully and slowly. Still, every so often he would hit upon a spot that made Maia gasp and jerk. With muttered apologies, he’d draw back, to Maia’s disappointment.

After some time, when he was feeling like a pile of oversensitive melted wax, Beshelar hazarded a suggestion. Stiffly, he said, “Serenity, if there are other areas that require attention, we would service them as well.”

Maia pulled himself up out of the pleasant haze his mind had drifted into long enough to nod agreement. Yes, more of this in other parts would likely feel as amazing. Without another thought, Maia rolled onto his back. It did not register with him that tenting his nightshirt now was a rather prominent cockstand.

Only Beshelar’s choked noise of startlement drew Maia’s attention. He saw the wide-eyed look on his face and followed his gaze and finally became fully aware of his own state of arousal. Beshelar looked away hastily. It seemed even in the dim light that his face was flushing.

“Oh gods, Beshelar, I’m sorry. I—you needn’t continue,” Maia said. Utterly mortified, he drew his knees up in an attempt to hide his erection. This was a reaction he hadn’t expected his body to have to the device. Apparently the pleasure went beyond just a nice, relaxing massage.

Clearing his throat loudly and roughly, Beshelar shook his head. He surprised Maia by stating firmly, “No! We shall continue, if—if your Serenity would like.”

At Maia’s dubious look, he mumbled, “We offer of our own will, Serenity.”

Maia pressed his lips together, searching Beshelar’s face. He could see he meant it, despite the look of flustered consternation in his expression. There was an eager hope in his eyes.

Slowly, Maia unfolded himself. He swallowed hard, now extremely self-conscious about his body. Beshelar had seen him in this state before, he reminded himself. Never quite this up-close and intimately, but Maia told himself it was only a matter of time before it would have happened under some other circumstance. He was nineteen, his body responded to a great many things both sensical and nonsensical. As judgemental as he could be, Beshelar had proven that he understood it was not something Maia could control.

“Where would you like to be massaged next, Serenity?” Beshelar asked, his voice only slightly strained.

Looking up at the cats that decorated his bed hangings, Maia licked his lips. “Ah. My… arms?”

Beshelar gave pause. “Do they pain you?”

Maia twisted the ends of his sheets between his fingers, fidgeting. “Well, no. I just thought that would be a--,” he searched for the right word, “safe place?”

“Serenity, we would work where it will bring you the most...satisfaction.”

Risking a glance at his face, Maia saw that Beshelar was looking at the device instead of at him, as embarrassed by this whole situation as Maia himself. And yet if Maia understood him correctly, he was not shying away from what that device might bring Maia to if it were used on less innocuous areas. The most satisfaction…?

“Then, if it pleases you, my thighs, Beshelar. They are sore from riding.” It seemed a weak excuse, but it was, in fact, true. Maia’s thighs did ache from riding, and the massager would likely do them some good. It was not all prurient interest that drove him to choose that area. Trying to be as nonchalant about it as possible, Maia reached down and pulled his nightshirt up and out of the way, exposing his thighs and also his straining cock.

“Serenity,” Beshelar murmured.

Without another word, Beshelar resumed his operation of the device, turning its crank easily until it was humming again in his hands. He applied it to the top of Maia’s right thigh, a look of great concentration on his face. Beshelar bit his lip as he worked, and the sight sent warmth pooling in Maia’s belly.

The muscle jumped at the strange sensation, but Maia soon relaxed. It tingled, more so when Beshelar swept the warmed leather pad toward the inside of this thighs, the nerves alighting with sweet sensation. Maia closed his eyes and breathed hard, his mouth hanging slightly open. His cock throbbed, the vibration traveling up from his sensitive thighs. Soft gasps and moans filled the air as Beshelar continued to expertly ply the massager. Soon, Maia’s legs were shaking, and not just from the vibration.

“Gods,” Maia thought he heard Beshelar say under his breath. It was hard to hear over the sound of the device, but the look on Beshelar’s face told him he had not misheard. The awe and lust in that quiet outburst and in Beshelar’s eyes only made Maia’s cock throb more intensely.

“Please, please,” Maia heard himself beg as he spread his legs wider, too overwhelmed with pleasurable tingling to feel shame any longer. “Beshelar, more! I need—more, ah, direct stimulation.”

Beshelar grunted in answer, a sound Maia took for assent. Then, Beshelar lifted the device and then lowered it again until it made contact with Maia’s bare cock.

Maia writhed, crying out in pure bliss, his head thrown back and his hands clenched in the sheets, toes curling with the strange and intense sensation of the vibrations jolting through him from the tip of his cock down to the root and through him.

Within seconds, Maia was coming in hard spasms, coating his belly in warm spend.

“Yes!” Beshelar exhaled, his voice hoarse and breathy. “Yes, that’s it.”

As Maia came down from the most intense and sudden orgasm he’d ever experienced, boneless and light-headed, Beshelar began methodically and efficiently cleaning both Maia and the device. From the washroom he brought warm cloths scented with rosemary and mint that freshened and tingled pleasantly—he must have found the bottle Avris had left prepared on the sink for Maia’s morning ablutions. Maia hummed his appreciation, smiling languidly up at Beshelar.

“I thank thee, Beshelar,” Maia said. “That was… incredible.”

“My pleasure, Serenity.” Beshelar’s voice was still low and roughened. He finished cleaning Maia’s belly and straightened, and Maia’s eyes were drawn to the obvious bulge within his own stiff uniform trousers.

It took effort not to stare. As he turned away, Maia caught Beshelar’s hand and held him there. “Wait. Art all right? I, ah, could ease thee as well.”

Beshelar’s face reddened further. “I am on duty, Serenity. It would not be proper.”

Proper? What about this had been proper? Maia nearly burst out laughing. The serious look on Beshelar’s face cautioned him against it, and he bit his lip to contain it.

“Wilt help me with the massager again, then? Perhaps when the shift changes and wilt be free of obligations?” At Beshelar’s look of hesitation, Maia continued, hope in his voice. “Please. I would return the favor, if thou wilt allow it.”

At that, Beshelar had to take a steadying breath. He licked his lips, then nodded once, sharply. “I would be honored.”

Maia smiled. “Good.”

With that, Beshelar returned to his post at the window casement, looking as though he had received an unexpected reward. As Maia arranged himself more decorously in the bed, he felt warm and light and loose, more relaxed than he had felt in a long time. All thanks to Beshelar, and to the strange new massaging device.

Already beginning to drift into a warm and languid sleep, Maia thought he’d have to thank Merrem Halezho for giving him such a gift. Her invention was quite stirring indeed. And he would thank Beshelar for his part in the proceedings later, more directly...