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For eight years, this conflict has endured.

For eight years, the Witch of the Wilds has surged from the Black Forest unleashing her servants and horrors on the countryside.

Each time, Lord Wilhelm has beaten their tide back from Aldersbrunn, but each year, she circles closer. If only he could discern why. The blight of the Witch’s influence seeps into the earth and air, poisoning the soil and its people. Even the walls of his castle feel sick with it. Aldersbrunn’s numbers are thinned by death or departure for safer lands, but the Lord will not abandon his ancestral home or the ones who beg his protection.

There are so few who can still fight. He is an old man now and the older alliances are dead.

In the end, it is coin that secures him allies to defeat the witch's forces, but again she evades their demands for justice. The Black Forest swallows its progeny, leaving a scapegoat in her stead -- another of the endless number ensnared by her promises of retribution and power.

He is called the Successor, and Adlersbrunn demands his life. But this war has waged too many years on too many lives, and Wilhelm is fatigued by its toll.

There is dignity in the creature who receives his judgment on behalf of his puppet master. He stands tall and resolutely silent before the crowds who balefully protest their Lord’s ruling.

Wilhelm will not dishonour his house by ending another's. The Ogundimu were healers and armourers. Now, there is only one, but this one has strayed far from his calling.

And now, that survivor will sow peace -- if not with the Witch, then between their lines -- by uniting them in the vessel of Lord Wilhelm's consort; the one note of light remaining in this dark land.


Stranded and humiliated by his betrayal, Akande Ogundimu resolves he will hold his tongue until he is free again. The words of his oath got him into this mess. Perhaps his silence will buy him time.

But the Lord's consort mistakes his silent protest for bashfulness and unease.

True to expectation as the court bard, the man is indulgent and... kind. His hands are firm, but gentle in their appreciative roam over Akande's bared chest. He peels the clothes from Akande's bound form as though he opens a precious gift. And perhaps he is -- perhaps Akande will be the one to end the drought of their fertility. The witch gave him gills and the strength of ten men. Who knows what else she did to him.

The consort leans in close enough to share the same air, trusting Akande not to rip out his jugular with his teeth.

Akande has given neither Lord Wilhelm nor his consort any reason to trust him. And still this smaller man studies him without fear, shoulders loose and relaxed. He exudes a confident warmth like a shroud of security that welcomes and encloses. Despite his intent to remain vigilant, Akande finds his hands unclenching beneath his back, legs easing in their splay on the bed.

His name is Lúcio, and Akande finally understands why they call him the bard of light.

He taunts Akande with a playful smile, stroking him to breathy arousal, "You're not my first stud. And you won't be the last."

How long have they been trying to conceive? How many were before Akande? And how many more--

It's not his concern.

He doesn't fight when Lúcio climbs into his lap, thighs falling astride him. He doesn't encourage with any shiver or thrust of his hips when Lúcio guides Akande's length, carefully sinking down on him with a slow gasp, eyes falling to half-mast.

He doesn't look to the Lord of the castle watching from the chair in the corner.

Hilt deep and fighting back a groan, Akande lets the bard slowly rock against him, and does not think of how he would have done anything to be in this position short decades ago. To have this Lord's eyes on his naked back because, before Wilhelm was a reclusive aristocrat, he was a titan of justice. A hero in Akande's eyes. Surely, he would have appreciated the evidence of Akande's dedication to the same ideals in the definition of his form and the passion of his monographs. Wilhelm would have recognised his equal.

That is, before Akande learned how much easier it is to be cruel.

He leans back, knees drawing up. Wide-eyed, Lúcio tilts into him with a startled cry at the new angle. Hands stumble on his chest for purchase.

Braced on bound forearms, Akande's hips lift, and Lúcio gasps sharply. His gaze burns, dark and lust-blown, pleased by his stud's decision to participate. Akande watches the consort watching him and cleaves hot between his thighs in a lewd, squelching rhythm. It's been long years since Akande has enjoyed the intimate company of another, and Lúcio responds so beautifully, arching against him, slick smearing both their thighs.

Plainly speaking, Lúcio is beautiful. His light teasing is not enough to hide the sharp intelligence in his eyes. If Akande performs his function, soon Lúcio will swell with his children. Lord Wilhelm's heirs, bearing Lúcio's smile and Akande's strength.

His cock throbs at the thought. Lip curling with a snarl, Akande speeds up, and the lithe consort bounces on the force of his thrusts, the wet slap of skin obscene.

He wonders if Wilhelm appreciates the earnesty Akande inspires from his lover, the way Lúcio bites his lip, wincing tightly, head bowing to Akande's chest. "Oh, God...."

He wonders if the Lord enjoys watching his lover vulnerable and trembling for other men.

He wonders, if a different hero had found him all those years ago in Numbani, if he might have been the one whored out to Lord Wilhelm's potential allies instead.

His whole being flushes with heat, hips snapping and Lúcio sobs brokenly, clutching him close as a lover. The plaintive look in his eyes makes Akande's chest bloom with unexpected and urgent affection.

"'M coming," Lúcio whimpers like a plea against his lips, “Don't stop, please don't--”

Who taught him to plead like that? Who would ever teach this gorgeous creature his pleasure should be denied?

Gasping back into his mouth, Akande rolls up against him and obeys.

"You may kiss him," the smooth rumble of Wilhelm's voice is startling. The thrill courses straight down to his cock. The next time Akande drives hard into the consort, he meets the Lord's eye across the room.

His Lord, too. They both belong to him now, don't they?

Lúcio mewls in his ear, arms wound tight around his neck, and the weight and heat of Wilhelm's gaze is the culmination of countless forgotten fantasies. Heart leaping, Akande's back arches, heels digging into the mattress. Lúcio stiffens with a strangled cry and Akande drives into him over and over, shuddering and spilling deep inside.

He hangs suspended in euphoria with the hot sleeve of Lúcio fluttering around him. At last, he splays, weak-limbed and breathing hard. Lúcio's face swims in his vision, then soft lips plunder his mouth, pulling a deep moan from his chest. It belatedly occurs to him that Wilhelm's direction might not have been for him. Languid and yielding, he tilts up into Lúcio's kiss that feels designed to claim him.

The consort pulls away with a breathless whimper and Akande drinks in the long, drawn out seconds when Lúcio leans their foreheads together, expression wracked as he feverishly strokes himself, body milking Akande with small, jerky shoves of his hips.

Lúcio comes with a stifled sob, and Akande groans as the mess of it spills over the seam where they're joined. If only his hands were free. He would swipe the seed from his skin and make Lúcio taste himself from Akande's fingertips. He would grope and worship those thighs spread so delectably wide around him. He would drag Lúcio up to swallow him down, suckle him until he was dry, keening and scrabbling at Akande for mercy. And he would not relent.

There's a reason Akande is the one bound on his back.

Lúcio has not lifted from his cock when their Lord appears by their bedside. Wilhelm's gaze is still heavy, but deeply fond. His hands almost dwarf Lúcio's face, cupping his jaw as his consort leans into him with a long and contented sigh, eyes falling shut.

Akande witnesses them exchange an entire conversation with a single look and a slow, knowing smile. That feeling blooms again in his chest. This time, it tightens from affection to a band that squeezes with melancholy.

He should not be seeing this. He should not be here. Somehow that one look was more intimate than the last, blistering minutes Lúcio spent riding him into the bed, and Akande is acutely aware that he does not belong here.

He is a prisoner. He is their pawn.

(No, all those years ago, it could not have been Akande. Not someone who would ally with reapers, banshees and brides of dark power on a personal march for glory.)

Swallowing thickly, he holds his tongue.

Wilhelm's large palm closes low over Lúcio's abdomen, and Akande swears he can feel it when the old Lord strokes circles, pressing in with his thumb. Lúcio hums with a faint smile and covers that hand with his own, rocking gently on Akande's spent cock.

“Recover your strength.” The low timber of Wilhelm's voice makes him shiver from so close. Is he addressing him? Lúcio? The both of them?

That large hand dips between their hips. Akande bucks with a startled gasp and Lúcio lurches, crying out at the finger their Lord works into him where Akande still bears him wide.

Akande claws into his forearms at the patient tug and press, too sensitive, too soon. Wilhelm's knuckles knead against him as Lúcio is stretched wider. The consort whines pitifully, chest heaving, his face buried in his Lord's robes, helpless to do anything but tense and flutter around them. Lord Wilhelm watches his stud.

“I expect at least two more loads from you before the night is through.”

Akande shivers at the order, bones melting. Between them, Lúcio squeals as a second finger hooks into him, but his sounds are climbing again, high and breathy. The muscles of Akande's abdomen clench under the hot palm that stroke up his inner thigh. He is pinned by the weight of mismatched eyes, steel blue and scarred white. The Lord's voice brooks no room for disagreement.

“I know you won't disappoint me.”