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In Tempus Pacis

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Izlude’s first time is on Yuletide Eve.  He’s watching the other acolytes gather in the mess hall, tumbler of cordial in hand.  The chairs and tables have been stacked aside to clear a dance floor, garlands wreath the old paneled walls, and a festive amount of candles are alight as the adolescent novices mostly mill about awkwardly, although some are escorting lady friends and looking quite pleased with themselves.  Izlude himself has no one on his arm, and although it doesn’t bother him, something in the warmth of the season fosters in him a dull, inarticulate sort of yearning.

Presently, there’s a thudding and crashing behind him, and he turns to witness one of the cadets in his unit enter through a door that’s been made off limits by the fixtures piled in front of it.  The squire deftly manoeuvres his way over the heap, puts the falling chairs to right and lands on his feet beside Izlude in one smooth motion, swiping his cup for a swig while he attracts amused looks from the novices, smiles from a couple of their girlfriends, and a look of resigned consternation from a senior officer.

“Well, what have I missed?” the squire, Chamberlain throws an arm about Izlude’s shoulder as he scans the room appraisingly. He’s slightly taller than Izlude and has had the fortune to grow into correct proportions at an age when many young men still struggle to untangle their developing limbs.  He’s sharp-featured but rather too pretty and ought to have a girl in tow, although perhaps not, judging by the entrance he’s just pulled. Izlude regards him with unabashed joy; perhaps this feast and indeed the holiday ahead aren’t going to pan out in the lonely and lacklustre manner he’s been dreading.

Another, albeit quieter disturbance issues from the doorway, as a second fair head pops up over the rubble, the owner of which scrambles over in an equally competent if less showy manner.  Chamberlain’s cousin, Winter, has a satchel tucked under his arm which he hands off to the former without making eye-contact. Izlude is surprised that the studious, composed archer-in-training would agree to be complicit in the running of contraband.  He doffs his gloves and brushes the snow from his straw-coloured hair while trying to look nonchalant.

Both boys are dressed in festival garb, sweeping capelets in icy blue and white silk and fine embroidered collars bordered by fur trims that set off their northern cheekbones to good effect.  They hail from Lesalia, from an influential family that pledged patronage to Glabados before the Fifty Year War, church boys raised in a city rich with temptations, unlike Izlude’s own comparatively cloistered upbringing.  Izlude wears the shade of forest green that he’s always looked best in, his tunic and cape less adorned but well cut.

Chamberlain is over by the banquet table now, spiking the punch bowl with the contents of the satchel, or some of them anyways.  His co-conspirator leans in with a sigh, “You’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to sneak out to town and back by sundown.” After morning routines, the novices had been given the afternoon off to prepare for the night’s festivities. “But the shops were all closed up early and then we tried a tavern, which wouldn’t let us buy full bottles.  Pig-headed provincial fools, we offered good coin for it too.”  Izlude smiles as he pictures his classmens’ urbane manners and big-city glibness flying right over the heads of the simple folk who inhabit the nearby hamlet.

“Mission successful however, I perceive.  What poor sod did you have to kill for it?”

Winter waves an elegant hand “Oh, nothing so bad as that.  We were on the verge of giving up, or I was in any case, when we came upon this lass sitting in the roadway by the parish church and crying.  Naturally we asked her what her trouble was, and she led us to a disused well.  Her old cat had got itself down there to birth its litter, and now cat and kittens all were stuck at the bottom in the freezing muck.  No one in town had a ladder long enough, so gods can only guess how they dug the damned thing in the first place.”

Izlude’s own afternoon had been spent penning letters to family, but he’s yet undecided as to whether he regrets missing out on this escapade.

“Of course C wanted to be the dashing hero, so we went about trying to find a rope in a town that hadn’t any shops open.  In the end, we found one that got about three-quarters of the way there and tied it to some bedclothes.  We secured it around a stump, and down he went, slipping and swearing the whole way. He put the kittens into a basket, which I pulled up one by one, glad that I wasn’t the one at the bottom scooping them out.  When he got to the mother, however, she wouldn’t budge, just glowered and hissed at him.  I suppose she wasn’t too pleased that he’d just abducted all her babies.”

“Meanwhile, we were cleaning up and swaddling the fearful little things.  Whoever tells you that cats have an instinct to cleanliness clearly hasn’t met these cats; they squirmed around and got mud on just about everything.  Suddenly C started yelling like he was being attacked, and as I leaned my torch in to see what was happening, the foul beast ricocheted itself up and out of the well, and onto my head.”

Izlude’s exclamatory interjections have given way to gales of laughter, “Oh gods, I’m sorry that it happened, but not sorrier than I am that I wasn’t there to see it!”

Winter, now clean and impeccably groomed, continues “Any case, we detached the parasite, and then it took almost another hour to get C out of the well, because the sheet slipped off and I had to climb down and have him throw it back up to me in the dark.  The silver lining in all of this was that it turned out that the girl is daughter to the parish priest, and the offer of anything we’d like as a reward extended to the sacramental wines, no questions asked.”

“Ah, so the blood of Saint Ajora flows freely tonight.”  Izlude tips his yet-unbesmirched cup to toast Chamberlain, who returns grinning with his own tumblerful of hard-won victory punch.

“Winnie’s told you about our heroic quest, I see.  We rode so hard to make it back in time that I thought I’d fly right off.  And then we only had time for one shower between the two of us.”  Both the other boys turn quite pink at this, Winter embarrassed by his cousin’s carefree indiscretion, even though everyone must know that these kinds of things happen frequently behind closed doors.  Izlude can picture it with perfect clarity in his mind’s eye, water sluicing down their hard, naked bodies, and the heat of it feels like he’s been punched in the gut.

“Well,” says Chamberlain, looking impish and pleased with the effect of his statement, “I’m off to steal a dance.” And indeed turns out to be very successful in prising several pretty girls away from their displeased dates over the course of the evening.  Izlude and Winter have their turns as well, mostly with the daughters of the attending commanders.  It’s thrilling to be in the company of ladies, after months of monastic training, and the soft, perfumed press of their bodies has all of them thrumming and giddy by the end of the night.

Chamberlain plucks a holly sprig from one of the centrepieces and tucks it coquettishly behind Izlude’s ear, “Now, my fair friend, would you care to join us for midnight libations?”  Izlude, as a unit captain as well as son of a high-ranking Templar officer is afforded the privacy of his own quarters.  The others, according to rank and status (to say nothing of wealth) are bunked in various configurations, six to a room for privates, double occupancy suites for lieutenants like Chamberlain and Winter.  The handsome archer, normally quite restrained, loops his arm through Izlude’s and leads him towards their shared quarters.  He smells like sandalwood and clean sweat, and Izlude feels suddenly light-headed.

They pile their capes at the foot of one of the beds, but not before Chamberlain pauses to admire the effect of his smart ensemble in the full-length mirror in a show of vanity that Winter rolls his eyes at but which Izlude finds endearing.  He leans against the dresser, all tousled hair and shining eyes, imbibing right from the bottle, which they pass around.  Izlude tips his head onto Winter’s shoulder and stays cocooned there for a moment, in sweet masculine warmth while Chamberlain holds forth about the day’s salacious gossip and the evening’s conquests.

He’s nearly dozed off when he feels lips press above his open collar.  They’re followed by the gentle scrape of teeth and the ghosting of hot breath.  “How now, Ser Tengille,” Winter’s voice murmurs in his ear, “would you like to play?”

***

As a child, Izlude once tumbled into a pond and before he realized that he was drowning, he remembers seeing the sky through the surface of the water and thinking how beautiful and towering it was.  He feels this way now, outside of his own body and not quite believing what is happening to him.  He wonders inadvertently if he’ll wake up suddenly, lungs burning as he clings to life.

As if able to read his thoughts, the sturdy presence behind him chuckles, “You should remember to breathe, captain.”  Which is admittedly difficult with the stormy gaze before him piercing him to the core, punctuating the spaces between the fervent, exploratory press of their mouths.  They’re on Winter’s bed, Chamberlain’s arms wrapped around him and Izlude can feel the other knight’s pulse steady against his back, through the fabric of their unbelted tunics.  Winter straddles him between shapely thighs, kneeling up and pulling Izlude into kisses so urgent and hungry that he wonders if he’s an idiot for never having noticed any signs of attraction from the stoic bowman before.

Although as cadets they haven’t been sent on many missions of consequence yet, Izlude’s lieutenants have proven themselves steadfast and capable in field exercises and the smaller errands that filter down to the training base from the main Church divisions.  He knows he’ll likely bring them into battle some day, and he’s at once grateful for their competence while trying not to doubt his own.  It’s his birthright to lead, and he doesn’t feel like he’s ready yet to choose life or death for the men he commands.

In the present, Izlude feels his lack of experience keenly.  The boys ensconcing him seem to know what they are doing, unfairly coordinated with one another’s actions as they take him to pieces between them.  Hands slide under his tunic to caress his chest and stomach, mouths suckle at his jawline, nip his earlobe, tease and lick wet swaths along his flushed collar bones.  He manages to break off with a gasp and stammer out half coherently, “H-how long have you been…and…and why with me?”  He wonders how many other boys, and maybe girls, they’ve seduced together like this.

Chamberlain kisses the crown of his head to quell him, “You know that I’m a beast of fine tastes and insatiable appetites,” (Winter interrupts grumbling, “You mean ‘indiscriminate’”) “I used to run around and tease the girls back home, making a bit of a game about how far I could get, and Winnie’d always find a way to bail me out when I ended up on the wrong side of a lady’s good graces or her father’s temper.”

“One time we wound up hiding in a hay wagon while the nobleman in question stormed about town raving that he’d have my head.  I thought the whole thing quite amusing, of course; scandal cultivates so quickly in the capital that indiscretions are forgotten as soon as there’s fresh grist for the mill, which is practically every other day.  The roaring and stamping went on for quite a time however, and the owner of the cart, who had no idea we were in it, ended up driving away some distance before we thought it prudent to ahem…bail.”  Chamberlain chortles at his own bad joke and Winter’s eyes roll up so far in his head that they seem in danger of severing and dropping right out.

The archer sits back on his heels and casts his eyes away, as if troubled, mouth drawn into a tight line.  “That nobleman happens to be one of the most reputable swordmasters in all of Ivalice.  I was so afraid that that was it, you’d wind up duelling him and get yourself properly offed.  We laid low at a farmstead in Grogh for a fortnight, which I didn’t think was nearly long enough, but ended up being plenty of time for this imbecile to…get up to even more mischief.”  It’s clear that Winter doesn’t want to elaborate on the exact nature of said mischief, and Izlude doesn’t press.  Chamberlain nuzzles his face into Izlude’s hair distractedly as his cousin continues.

“I was already pretty fucked off with him, what with having to drop everything and slum in the provinces for half a month.  My sister was about to wed and I was anxious we wouldn’t be back in time, not to mention our families having to quash the furore he’d created.” A muffled sigh issues from behind, “I was a bit of an ass back then, wasn’t I?”

Winter seems reluctant to talk about all of this, it’s clear he’s never had to lay it out so barely.  Izlude has managed to get his pulse under control now, although it still sends a thrill through him to be so intimately entangled with these two captivating young men, so unalike and so inseparable.  He is party to their secrets as well as their affections tonight, one burning hot and the other cold.  He brings Winter’s long fingers to his lips and asks gently, “If he vexed you so, why did you continue to go along with everything he wanted?”

“I didn’t anymore.  And I…I told him as much.”

“He roughed me up but good, and then when we were tussling down in the dirt, he kissed me.”  Winter can’t look at either of them, the intensity of his pent-up emotions overwhelming even now.  His voice is raw and choked, “I didn’t think you’d ever…that anything would ever happen between us.  I was so tired of burning for you, I wanted to go numb.  I wanted to die every time you looked at anyone else.”  Hearing it said aloud appears to shake Chamberlain to sobriety, and he goes quiet realizing what kind of hell he’d put his lover through.  Izlude tries to imagine what it would be like to be either the bearer or the receiver of such ardent devotion from another person.  Although they are the ones who have brought him here, he feels like he’s intruded on something much more intimate than he was meant to be a part of.

It’s Winter who breaks the spell, however, giving his head a swift shake and declaring, “Where are our manners, asking you to join us and then becoming so unthinkably self-absorbed.  We are in service of your pleasure tonight, after all.”  His smile is all warmth as he brushes fingertips against Izlude’s parted lips.  Izlude’s heart swells with affection for the controlled detonation embodied in this man, the cool and careful veneer that conceals an unfathomable depth of passion.  He wants it, to taste a fraction of that love and lust while he’s in his orbit, but he has to know, “Why, though?  You got what you wanted.  Even if you have to keep it a secret, you couldn’t have asked for a more ideal arrangement.”

Chamberlain answers, “We both did, aye.  But we bicker and drive one another up the wall all the time as well.  We need to live outside our little universe, and we both do fancy you quite a lot.  I know that we can trust you, on the field and like this, too.”  He cups Izlude’s jaw and plants a kiss on his forehead, tipping his gaze upwards so that their eyes meet.  He’s set down a demarcation – us and you, which Izlude is only too glad for.  He yearns to frolic with these golden young stags but would never dream of getting in between their fierce hearts.

Winter leans in to kiss him again with renewed purpose, this time protracted and slow.  He slides his tongue along Izlude’s in the loveliest electrifying way and Izlude’s eyelids flutter shut as Chamberlain’s warm hands find their way under his tunic again to thumb over his hipbones, pushing gently downward at his breeches.  The touch sends shockwaves from his spine all the way to his toes and he’s overtaken by the sensation of excruciating arousal mixed with sheer panic, never having done anything like this with anyone, let alone two other people at once.

“W-wait, I’ve never...I don’t know how to…” he stammers, ashamed of his inexperience but unable to keep from blurting it out.

“Hush my love, all will be fine.  We will guide the way and if there is anything you find disagreeable, you must ask us to stop immediately.”  Winter gentles him with the press of a finger to his lips and Izlude’s eyes shine with relief and gratitude.  Their hands lift hems and tug at drawstrings until he’s divested of his garments and they of theirs.  Then he’s drowning again, in the texture and scent and taste of heated skin and shifting muscle, every sense heightened and pulled into dreamlike focus.

Izlude closes his eyes and lets his head fall back against Chamberlain’s chest, agonizingly aroused and self-conscious to be as naked and undeniably on display as he is.  His thighs are spread wide as Winter sucks bruising wet marks onto the pale, creamy skin between them, Chamberlain’s hands cupping the firm swell of his pectorals and teasing rosy nipples to hardness.  His untouched cock arcs up in a rigid line and dribbles an embarrassing slick mess all over his taut, trembling belly.  His entire body feels like a thing tightly coiled and he knows that he will be unable to keep it wound up for much longer.

“Oh please…touch me.  Fuck me,” he murmurs, brown eyes bright and wild.  His lieutenants ramp up their ministrations, enthused to hear him so undone, “Mmm, your wish.”  Chamberlain hums, pulling him up for a deep kiss.  The searing wet heat of Winter’s mouth descends upon his quivering length, laving with teasing deliberation up to the sensitive blushing crown.  Izlude’s cry is muffled by the lips that cover his own, his fingers scrabbling helplessly to clutch at the sheets.

Chamberlain pries his hands from their grip and pauses to kiss his palms before guiding Izlude’s arms to wend up and behind his own neck, supporting the smaller knight’s weight in his lap, an arrangement that makes Izlude feel even more exposed.  Winter swallows him down to the root with a moan that sends vibrations right to Izlude’s balls.  The pretty archer is flushed and disheveled, blond hair falling across his unfocused grey eyes.  He takes himself in hand and strokes with abandon as he reverently bobs up and down in a shameless, sloppy display that Izlude finds almost unbearably erotic to watch, precisely because it betrays every ounce of his usual composure.

Izlude is awash in sensation, quickly losing his balance on the knife-edge of orgasm.  When he begins to tip over, Winter reaches down to carefully push a finger into his spit-slick entrance and massage him through long, hard spurts while Chamberlain muffles his screams with a hand pressed gently but firmly over his mouth.  He’s gasping and panting, nearly sobbing with relief as he sprawls with his arms twined above and his legs akimbo, utterly incapacitated by the intensity of it.  He feels filthy and beautiful, covered in sweat and spit and come, his mouth and cock and nipples and hole throbbing and tender from being worshipped and used.

Winter and Chamberlain, solicitous even in their need, stroke Izlude’s hair and pet him soothingly, telling him in sweet murmurs how lovely he is.  Izlude, accustomed to shouldering the prestige and responsibility of a future commander, has never felt more flattered and appreciated in his whole life.  When he’s sufficiently recovered to gather his limbs, they bid him kneel up between the warm crush of their bodies.  Chamberlain grasps his hips and thrusts along the cleft of his ass while Winter’s erection nudges against his thighs and slides deliciously alongside his own stiffening cock.

It isn’t long before both boys are chasing their own climaxes, spattering Izlude’s already sticky torso with fresh gouts of milky ejaculate.  Chamberlain bites the juncture of his neck and shoulder, his moan reverberating and sending shivers down Izlude’s spine.  Winter makes a superlative effort to preserve his self-control, stifling keening gasps, but is betrayed by his trembling, sex-flushed body.  His pretty cock, elegant and lean like the rest of him, displays his prolonged arousal in the glistening pre-come dripping copiously down its length.  He must be positively aching by the time he finally shoots his release, burying his face in Izlude’s chest with a sob.

***

“An innkeeper…nay, a tavern keeper.”  Chamberlain muses.  He is stretched out against the headboard, legs intertwined with Winter’s, who rests his weight against the wall adjacent.  Izlude is propped up on pillows and laying across both their laps, eyes mapping out curlicues in the plaster molding.  “I’d have the finest wines and the prettiest barmaids…and uh, bar boys.”  He traces a toe teasingly along Winter’s calf as they contemplate what they would choose if they weren’t destined for military service.

Winter kicks his foot away jovially, “You oaf, I wouldn’t be caught anywhere near the kind of disreputable establishment that you’d surely see fit to run.  An apothecarist for me, I should think.  I was apprenticed to an elderly relative of ours before we were enrolled here and became quite good at preparing potions and poultices.  I probably would have become a medic if I hadn’t had to hone my marksmanship so I could keep this one out of trouble.”  Physicians and healers joining the militia were not afforded the same prospects to advance rank as combatant classes.

Izlude touches a spot below his ribs that Winter had tended to some months prior.  The burn scar from an errant fireball during a training exercise is smooth and almost completely faded now.  “Aye, but you’ve certainly a gift for it.  Tis useful to have abilities that are still needed in times of peace.  I admire your acumen.”

“What path for you, Ser Tengille?”

Izlude doesn’t often give himself leave to consider what he would do with a future that hasn’t been meticulously plotted out for him.  The Church has been in a constant state of rapid growth and restructuring ever since his early childhood, leaving him in the care of his sister and tutors, and later travelling frequently from province to province to help with the founding of new monasteries and chapter houses when he became old enough not to get underfoot.  The Mullonde Training Garrison, established to rival Gariland’s secular Royal Akademy, has been his home and refuge for a little over two years now.  Here, for the first time in his life, he’s come to realize that he isn’t just a nuisance and a disappointment.  He’s made friends and gained respect from the other trainees, broken bread and shared cups, laughter, injuries and tears, and tonight something secret and wonderful.

“Something impractical, a falconer perhaps.”  Falconing has always been cathartic, releasing the birds to flight like offering up his soul to soar freely above.  Even as a boy, watching the daredevil barn swifts dive and swoop imparted in him a sense of wild delight.  “I’d grow into a useless old country squire, living off farmstead taxes and the two of you would have to close up shop every feast-day to come visit me in my grand overstuffed manor.”

Chamberlain ruffles his head affectionately, clearly pleased by this self-indulgent flight of fancy.  “And here we observe that a lifetime of strict Templaric upbringing breeds naught but aspirations of leisure, avarice and indolence.  Well done.”

They all laugh and curl up closer, stoking the hearth and talking long into the night.  Tomorrow there will be mass at mid-morning, and the Feast of Ajora will be a day of rest and good tidings.  Outside the snow falls softly over Ivalice, castles and cottages, kings and serfs, balanced on the cusp of a tenuous and short-lived peace.  The new year will see battle and bloodshed the like of which living memory cannot recall, brutal sacrifice and the truth of a war that will be lost to history.  But right now there is this, life and warmth and camaraderie, chivalry and dreams, and it is all that matters.