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The Viper Among Wolves

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His captors kept their blades well hidden. They did not drag him, nor was he bound, but Laurent knew: one false step and they would slice his hamstrings, then carry him, bleeding, to his new master. They brought him to the royal palace of Akielos, where he knelt in a small throne room.

The prince, Laurent thought, was precisely the sort of man a good slave ought to enjoy serving. He was entirely one color: dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned. He was larger than any other man present, his muscled body sitting straight-backed in his throne. The prince's eyes slid over him.

They had dressed Laurent like a prince, not a fuck toy. Cuffs — a lacework of gold — clasped his wrists, his ankles, half-hidden by trailing Veretian cloth. Exotic, said the woman who had dressed him. She could have put him Akielon clothes. Laurent would have preferred that.

He was meant to be an insult. He had studied Akielon slaves once he had found out he was going to be one; they were kind, quiet, and submissive. As the eyes of the court fixed on him, he thought of making a crude gesture — he vividly imagined killing them. He would have, if he could have. But in that moment, the only person Laurent hated more than his captors was his uncle, and he would not give his uncle the satisfaction of getting himself killed. Pristinely, he lowered his head and bowed in the Akielon way, then held there, allowing his hair to curtain his face.

Whispers of approval went through the court. “Rise,” said Damianos in Akielon.

Laurent straightened.

“Is it traditional in Vere for princes to become slaves?” Damianos’s voice was dry.

“No,” Laurent said curtly.

“Your uncle is quite generous.”

Laurent picked through the words in Akielon, then slowly put them together aloud. “It was a condition of Vere’s surrender. I, the second son, come here to serve to serve you, Prince Damianos, as however you see fit. A gift of good faith.”

“A hostage,” Damen said, “to ensure Vere will not attack again.” Laurent winced. In Vere, such truth wouldn’t be spoken so openly. “My father has seen fit to make you my bed slave.”

Laurent felt his body go rigid. His veins turned to ice. On the outside, he did not allow his expression to change.

Damianos said, “A formality, nothing more. My father seemed to think it would be the best place to keep you — it means you will lounge all day, have a life of simplicity and luxury.”

How kind, Laurent thought. He would be treated nicely before the prince brutalized him. “Your Highness,” Laurent said. “I look forward to serving you.”

“Please,” Damianos said. “Call me Damen.”