Lord Yestos I Toscan cast an eye over his guests as he casually circulated among them. He congratulated himself on the success of the party – many of the wealthiest and/or most influential nobles in Skala were in attendance. Food was in abundance, the wine flowed freely, and the entertainment was lively and loud. It had cost him a pretty amount but he was certain that the evening would pay for itself, considering how intoxicated many of the guests were getting. It was only a matter of picking a target.
Raised voices from one of the corners of the room caught his attention, and he casually glanced in that direction. A brief frown touched his lips before he forced a more neutral expression onto his face. Lord Seregil of Rhiminee appeared to be at the center of the trouble, and for a moment Yestos regretted having extended an invitation to him. The Aurenfaie were out of favor with the Court and many nobles had begun copying Queen Phoria in shunning them whenever possible. Yestos, however, took a long view on such matters. Who knew how long the Aurenfaie would remain out of favor, or even if Phoria would remain Queen, especially with the war? And it was well known that Princess Klia favored the Aurenfaie.
The argument appeared to be growing more heated, and Yestos drifted closer to hear what he could. Lord Seregil had been a little unsteady when he arrived at the party and it appeared that he’d been drinking without halt since then. His ward – and some said lover – Sir Alec of Ivywell was attempting to hush him without little success. The lad placed a hand on Lord Seregil’s arm which was shook off, then the intoxicated ‘faie turned and made his way staggeringly towards the door. Sir Alec stood watching him disconcertedly, biting his lip in a way that was very young and entrancing, then turned and disappeared in the direction of the garden. Yestos smiled and, after ensuring that his staff kept his other guests well entertained, went in search of the young man.
It took a little time to find him; Sir Alec had taken refuge at the far side of the fountain where the shadows concealed more than the light cast by the windows revealed. The young man’s head was bent and his hands were idly plucking leaves from one of the bushes, shredding and then discarding them. A call from a night-bird made him lift his head briefly before he returned to his self-imposed task.
Yestos kicked a bit of stone to alert the boy to his presence before he called out to him. “Sir Alec? Are you unwell?”
Sir Alec lifted his head again and Yestos saw him bite his lip before he discarded the leaf in his hand and turned toward him. “N-no, I am well. I just needed – it was a bit crowded and, and hot…” His voice trailed off and he gave Yestos an uncertain look before lifting his hand to toy with an extravagantly jeweled pin at his throat.
Yestos allowed himself one satisfied smile – this would be like taking sweets from a child – before he schooled himself back to a concerned expression. “Forgive me, but I couldn’t help noticing that you and Lord Seregil quarreled…”
The boy’s shoulders slumped and his head drooped. “He went off to the Pleasure houses,” Sir Alec said in a low voice, barely above a whisper. “He has become tired of me.”
Yestos stepped closer, reaching out to touch the young man’s shoulder reassuringly. “I do not see how that could be possible.”
Sir Alec lifted his head, his blue eyes fixed on Yestos’ face in youthful entreaty. “You don’t think I’m too young and dull? I – I know I’m not very experienced, and my homeland is not as sophisticated and grand as Rhiminee…”
“Nonsense,” Yestos said, risking a closer step, transferring his hand from shoulder to cheek. “I think you are quite delightful and very attractive. Surely you’ve had lovers to tell you so?”
A bashful blush colored the boy’s cheeks. “I – Seregil is the only real lover I’ve had, though I’ve been to the Pleasure houses before,” he hastened to assure the older man.
Yestos let a genuine smile cross his face. Innocence and beauty combined – perhaps he would string this conquest out a bit longer than usual; Illior knew that it had been a long time since he’d had someone so fresh and unspoiled in his bed. “Then Lord Seregil should take more care with you. If you were my lover, I’d spoil you with everything your heart could desire.”
“Oh, he does!” the lad hastened to reassure him. “Clothes, money, jewels – he gave me this just last month!” he said, touching the pin at his throat again. “But he no longer spends much time with me.” His mouth drooped.
“He is a fool,” Yestos said, and his hand caressing the shining gold hair – long and out of fashion, but it did become the lad. “If you were my lover, I would spend every free moment I had with you.”
Sir Alec peered up at him through his lashes. “Really?” he breathed.
It was so easy to tilt the young man’s face up, to press a kiss against those beguiling lips. His arms went around the slender body and he felt Alec’s arms embrace him tentatively in return. Yestos smiled in triumph and let his lips move across the young man’s smooth face and throat, let his hands caress the supple back and slide down to cup the firm backside.
“Oh!” Alec panted, pulling back slightly, slowly. “We mustn’t – someone could come into the garden and see us. Seregil can be so jealous…”
Yestos felt that last bit of the trap closing around the boy and smirked in satisfaction. “Very well – but I would like to see you again, perhaps when Lord Seregil is engaged elsewhere?”
Alec nodded eagerly, leaning in for another brief kiss, and then pulled reluctantly away. “I must go. The servants will tell him if I’m not home soon.”
“Wait!” Yestos said, reaching out to catch his hand and pull him close again. “I would like something to remind me of you always, until we can be together again. A handkerchief, an earring…?”
Alec touched the pin. “I – this is all I have with me. Would it do?”
It would do very well, indeed, Yestos thought. A pin like that was bound to be unique and recognizable to Lord Seregil – not that he would show it to him. The threat would be enough. “I would treasure it, as I do you.”
Alec removed the pin and placed it in Yestos’ hand, then clutched both. “Take great care with this! If Seregil should learn that I’ve given it to you – “He shuddered. “I don’t like to think what he might do.”
“I assure you, it will be well guarded.” He drew the young man in for one more kiss, and then released him as if reluctant. “Go quickly, before you are seen.”
Alec nodded and hastily made his way into the house, then out to the street, declining the offer to call for a carriage as he turned in the direction of Wheel Street. Yestos waited for a moment after he left, then went back into the house to briefly circulate among his guests before he made his way upstairs to secure his new treasure. In the morning, he would send a message to arrange an assignation with Sir Alec, and in a week or two, when he had tired of the young man, he would begin making the young man pay to keep his secret.
Alec began walking in the direction of Wheel Street, his pace moderate enough that he could casually look about him to determine if he was being watched. At the first cross-street, he turned, then turned again onto the alley that ran along the back of the fashionable houses in the area, used by tradesmen to bring in supplies. At the rear of Lord Yestos’ house, he paused and looked around again before pulling out a bag that had been concealed among the rubbish pile. He stripped off his elegant blue coat and stuffed it into the bag, pulling out a black one instead. He was reassured to see that Seregil’s red coat was stashed inside, although the signal that the nightrunner was in place had been clear.
Carefully keeping to the shadows, he scaled the fence and swung into the large tree that border the back of the garden. From here he could see that the party was still in full force although the garden was empty. The upstairs of the house was dark, and it was only with eyes accustomed to the dark that he was able to see a figure quietly climb out of the window onto the lower roof. The figure closed the window and made his way silently to end dark end of the roof where it disappeared again. A moment later, the shadowy figure made its way around the dark perimeter of the garden, pausing at the foot of the tree.
“Catch!” was the soft command and Alec easily caught the small bag thrown up to him. He tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket, freeing his hands to aid the nightrunner in his ascent, but they weren’t needed. As agile as any tree denizen, the man formerly known as the Rhiminee Cat scaled the tree, and a few minutes later both were dropping back down into the alley. The black mask concealing Seregil’s features was removed and stuffed in the bag, and then both men were heading towards the Stag and Otter.
The Inn was bustling with business as they arrived, and they skirted the main entrance for the kitchen door instead. Alec grabbed a bucket of hot water as they passed through, and when they reached their warded rooms on the third floor, he poured it into the basin and added cold water from the rain barrel on the roof. He stripped to the waist, tossing his coat on the bed. Seregil pulled the small bag out of the pocket, pouring out the contents on the bed.
“Did you find it, then?” Alec asked as he began briskly washing his face and neck.
“Of course,” Seregil said, holding up a glittering earring, the object of the night’s activities, given to Yestos by a foolish young man who had fallen into the same trap Yestos had thought to catch Alec in. He would see it returned to the young man in the morning, and collect the fee for the job. “Yestos went straight to the secret compartment the moment you left. Retrieved your pin as well, and a few other baubles to cover up the real reason for the theft.” He toyed with other bits of jewelry – a bracelet, a ring, another brooch. “No doubt these were gained in much the same manner.”
There was no reply from Alec, and Seregil looked over to see that he was washing his face and neck for the second or possibly third time. He frowned. “Alec? Are you all right? He didn’t leave marks, did he?”
“No, of course not.” Alec wet the sponge again and once more scrubbed his cheeks and the side of his neck although both were pink from his scrubbing. “It’s just – I can’t seem to wash off the stink of him.”
Seregil’s heart faltered and he swore under his breath. He shouldn’t have suggested the ruse in order to locate Yestos’ hidden strongbox. Alec was young and naïve, and exposing him to people like Yestos was wrong, even though Alec had been eager to do the job. Not for the first time, Seregil wondered what he was doing, exposing them both to the risks of being nightrunners.
He scooped the jewels up and set them on the worktable in the main room, then returned to the bedroom to wrap his arms around Alec and press his nose against the side of his neck.
“I don’t smell him on you,” he said reassuringly, pressing a kiss against the spot. “Just you, tali. Only you.”
Alec tilted his head to the side, offering better access, and Seregil obliged by kissing every inch of his lover’s neck, then applying similar attention to the abused cheek. Alec was breathing hard by the time he finished, and an exploratory brush over his groin showed that his cock was hard as well.
“Come to bed, tali,” he murmured in Alec’s ear. “I’ll make you forget he even touched you.”
Alec drew a shuddering breath and opened his eyes, turning in Seregil’s arms. “You’re doing a fine job of it already,” he said huskily, and captured Seregil’s mouth in a kiss.
There was a hint of something not-Alec in the taste of his mouth, but Seregil forbore to mention it, opting instead to replace the flavor with his own. And in truth, kissing Alec had never been a hardship, not even in the early days when Alec was unskilled at it. Now their lips and tongues knew each other, knew the welcome they’d find in the haven of the other’s warmth. Without breaking the kiss, Seregil backed towards the bed and, reaching it, fell back and pulled Alec with him.
Clothes were shed with more abandon than care, and soon Seregil was crouched over his lover, his talimenios, revisiting all the places on Alec’s body that he loved best, the ones that made his lover pant and moan and cry out in pleasure. Alec’s legs parted willingly for him as his body was reclaimed, his arms and legs wrapped tight around Seregil as they sought mutual delight in each other’s flesh. And when they were sated and spent, wrapped around each other in the tumbled mess of sheets, Seregil made a silent vow that he would do a better job in keeping his treasure safe, Illior willing.