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Title -- "Love and Loyalty: Aeren" Book Two Chapter Three Part Two
Author-- AnonymousAvatar
series -- A Distant Soil
Disclaimer -- Colleen Doran owns all
Rating -- NC-17
Characters/Pairing -- Seren/ Kovar, D'mer/Seren
Summary -- The Avatar and his Shield Kovar must face a conspiracy that threatens everyone and everything they love.

WARNING: Child abuse. Some content may be disturbing for some readers.

PART III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII
Part VIX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII

Love and Loyalty
Book 2 AEREN
Chapter 3 Part 2

STORY NOTE: An Ovanan year is 14 years, so Seren is about 17 human years in this segment of the story. Ovanan children age slower than human children. He would appear to be about 12-13 in human years.

Aeren was asleep.

He’d staggered back to the water closet, this time on his own, and returned complaining about the soaked facility, forgetting that he’d been responsible for it, having been unable to hit the urinal in his drunken stupor. Afterward, flopping on the chaise in an untidy lump, emotionally and physically exhausted, he laid his head upon the pillow and was unconscious in the time it took for Kovar to walk back to his desk to get more fruit for Aeren to eat.

Kovar was fastidious enough to examine Aeren’s stocking feet for signs they’d been soiled in the water closet. Mercifully, they were clean.

The Prince examined the boy’s awkward posture on the chaise, and gently rearranged his limbs so that he would sleep more comfortably. Aeren grunted in his sleep. Kovar loosened the high collar of Aeren’s shirt, and reached for his queue, now an unruly tangle wrapped in an wrinkled trail of ribbon, and began carefully unbinding the great length of golden hair.

Asha, Kovar’s valet, silently entered the office from the door leading to Kovar’s private rooms. She carried a blanket. She looked around the office in alarm, the shards of glass still littering the floor. Two members of the household staff followed behind her, equally silent, to clean the mess Aeren had made.

Kovar gave up trying to unwrap Aeren’s hair from his queue. The Prince reached into the band of his boot to withdrew a small dagger which he used to slice the ribbons. As they fell away, he discarded them in a pile on the table and freed Aeren’s hair, spreading it upon the pillow and over the cushions of the chaise so Aeren could sleep without pulling it. It was as soft and silky as it looked. The color and texture was so like that of Saveris’s mane that Kovar felt a pang as he touched it. Then he took the blanket from Asha, and covered the boy with it.

Asha collected the ribbons and put them on a dish, which she piled on top of another dish, uneaten food still on it. A shocked-looking staffer emerged from the water closet and took the plates from her. His silent assessment of what he had found in the water closet was conveyed to Asha who looked at Kovar, who merely shrugged.

The Prince walked toward the window, his staff wordlessly attending the mess around him, and watched the growing storm over the mountains. It had darkened the sky enough in late afternoon that the glare of the snow was gone. Kovar waved his hand. The windows dimmed again, and the room went dark, but for the gentle spot lighting around the bar, the chaise, the altar, and at his desk.

Kovar had eaten little of the food that was placed on the desk that morning for him to enjoy with Aeren, and now it was cold. As the servants took away the half-eaten meal, another brought in a fresh hot plate for Kovar and put it on the table next to the chaise. Kovar’s large, comfortable desk chair glided across the room at Kovar’s silent command to rest by the table as well. Kovar picked up a stack of documents, crystals, and a stylus, and made his way to his chair to sit next to Aeren, the comfortable, warm lights levitating around him, adjusting height and brightness to Kovar’s needs.

Asha made another silent query, which was met with a mild smile and a shake of Kovar’s head. The staff finished the business of Aeren’s mess and quietly retreated followed by Asha.

Kovar sank into his chair and kicked off his boots, putting his feet on the table. He balanced the plate of his dinner on his lap, and went back to work, a document in one hand, a beefy roll in the other.

Aeren slept.

“Your Highness…Ahem…Your Highness!”

The voice was in his head. The Prince stirred, and opened his eyes to see his secretary Erastos leaning over him, looking at him in alarm. Kovar had fallen asleep, one boot on the table, the other on the floor, papers fallen and crumpled around him. Aeren was still unconscious in a heap on the chaise, the blanket twisted in a knot around his body, his hair trailing to the floor.

“What?” said Kovar dimly, forgetting that the voice was in his head, and that his secretary was trying to avoid waking the Prince’s ward.

“You have an emergency communication on the Avatar’s private channel,” Erastos said, again in Kovar’s mind. He looked back and forth from Kovar to the boy. The Prince sitting a tender watch late into the night over the young man was not something Erastos expected to see after the way Aeren had entered the House the day before.

Kovar struggled to wakefulness. He’d not had a full night’s sleep since before Aeren had arrived, having sat through the previous night studying the documents from Lord Acteon’s files, and he didn’t know how long he’d dozed late this day. He felt dim and his head ached. “Did he say what he wants?”

“No, Your Highness. The channel is locked, the message is for you alone.”

Kovar noted Aeren’s sleeping form, and said, “I’ll take it in my bedchamber. Watch him.”

Erastos nodded and took up sentry duty as Kovar stalked out of the office to his chamber down the hall. It was a massive room with enormous doors, elaborately carved and set with silver, once again with the Avatar’s crest over his own as on the carvings of the entrance to his office. Two Shields stood guard and held the doors as he entered. Kovar noted the timepiece on the desk in the corner: not yet 10 in the evening, but much later than he thought. He could see the pale glow of the evening snow in the light of the moons through the huge windows leading to the balcony past the bed. A low flame was burning in the fireplace, and on his devotional altar. The storms had passed hours ago. He rubbed his eyes, and clicked the tablet on the desk in the corner, summoning the projection.

His mouth opened in surprise.

He was looking at a youth of exquisite beauty. Kovar had little contact with children, and had no skill in determining their ages, but this one seemed like one old enough to have been through The Choosing. It was hard for him to tell. A slight strength in the jaw, a cleft chin, and the set of the full, pink lips had Kovar guessing he was looking at a very young boy. He had porcelain skin, a thick mane of silver-white hair and enormous eyes with all the changeable colors of an opal in them. He was the paragon of delicate, androgynous perfection, and one of the most beautiful boys Kovar had ever seen. The Prince found himself instantly enchanted despite being put out that he’d been awakened from the only sleep he’d had in almost two days.

The paragon spoke in the voice of a child trying to sound like a man.

“You are the Prince of Teramis, are you not?” he said.

Kovar realized his mouth was hanging open. “I am…and you must be…”

“I am the Heir Apparent to the Avatar.”

“I see,” said Kovar. He tried to suppress a smile because the boy looked so serious and so young, and Kovar suspected he was about to hear something very odd out of him. Then he thought of the truth of what had happened to this lovely child, and his smile faded. The boy was trying to be very grown up. He wondered how long he had had to work to get his voice to come out in that deep tone. Kovar said, “We have not seen each other in some months. Do you remember me, My Lord Seren?”

The boy blinked at that. He had very thick white eyelashes and eyebrows. Kovar saw that the rims of his eyes were a bit red. He’d been weeping. “No…you remember me?” The deep tone shot up an octave in surprise.

“Yes, My Lord. And I am deeply honored that you have chosen to call me this evening. I’d hoped to be properly introduced to you before, but circumstances have kept us apart. You delight me with your attention.” Kovar bowed.

Seren had not been expecting to have his call answered by someone who would treat him with courtesy. He’d puffed himself up thinking he’d to have to order people about. And here he was being bowed to. He didn’t seem to know what to do.

“I…I…I want to speak to Aeren!”

Kovar smiled. “I see. Does the Divinity know you are using his private channel?”

Seren’s bravado crumbled, and he looked at Kovar with his enormous, pleading eyes of opal. “Aeren always calls me every single day. Always! He didn’t call me last night!”

“Ah,” said Kovar. “I understand how important that must be to you.”

Seren said in a small voice, struggling to be powerful “You’ve taken him away from me. I won’t let you do that!”

Kovar bowed slightly. “I would be loathe to take him from you.”

Seren blinked. “I don’t know what ‘loathe’ means. If you’ve hurt Aeren, I will make you sorry!” His voice was light and high, musical, but gained strength as he spoke. His emotions were raw and unregulated. No wonder he was kept away from court, thought Kovar. He had no filters at all.

Kovar bowed again. “The greatest sorrow of all, Your Radiance, would be to cause you pain.”

Seren had no idea how to handle the stern-faced Prince who seemed so warm and accommodating. “Does that mean Aeren can come home now?”

Kovar sighed. “Your Radiance, I am but a servant of the Avatar, as we all are. And there are things that are beyond my power. But I assure you, Aeren is where he is because this is where he needs to be for now.”

The boy looked confused again. Kovar watched thoughts dance over his face. He really was extraordinarily beautiful, Kovar mused. He thought again of what he had seen in the crystal, the things done when this creature was a very pretty little boy, and the memory of the sight sent a dagger into his heart. “You say that you speak with Aeren every day?” he asked as gently as he could.

“Yes,” said Seren hopefully. “He always calls me, no matter where he is. When he goes off to be alone in the mountains, I am the only person he talks to. Every day. He needs me.”

Kovar nodded. “Yes, I can see that he does.”

At that moment, the great doors of Kovar’s bedchamber opened, and several guards ushered in their bedraggled charge as Erastos paused by the door's entrance. Aeren’s shirt was half undone, and his hair was a wild tangle about him, falling past his knees. Kovar made a slight gesture toward his men, and his wordless command was obeyed instantly, as the guards stopped at the door without stepping through. One gave Aeren a gentle nudge at the shoulder, and the doors closed behind them, leaving Aeren alone with Kovar, blinking and bleary-eyed, staring at the Prince in confusion. Kovar made a gesture to approach. Aeren caught sight of the projection over Kovar’s desk, gasping and stumbling forward as he did so.

“Seren! Seren, my Little Star, what are you doing?”

Seren looked a bit put out at this. “You didn’t call! Why didn’t you call? Why are you in that place? Why did you leave? When are you coming home?”

Aeren smiled and shook his head, “Seren, I’m so sorry I meant to call, really I did. I was a bit…tied up.” He glared at Kovar as he said it, and Kovar looked down at him, betraying no emotion. “But here I am now, Star, I am so happy to see you! Does…does Etan know you have called me?”

Seren looked guiltily from side to side. “…no…”

“I don’t want you to get in trouble!”

“Is it true that you have left us? Is it true that you aren’t coming back?” Seren cried. “They say you did something terrible, that you are not a lord anymore, and that you are never coming home! Please say it’s not true! Please, Aeren! You wouldn’t leave me! You promised!”

Aeren looked stricken, and he shuddered at the sound of the boy’s cries. “Seren…Seren…I…”

“It is not true,” interjected Prince Kovar. “Rest your fears, Your Radiance.”

Aeren looked up at him, with an expression equal parts hope and anxiety.

“Lord Aeren has come here to be with me so that he may have proper schooling. He has many fine gifts that require special care. He is born of Teramis, and only on Teramis may he have what he needs.” Seren’s mouth made a small "O". “When you are older and have need of Lord Aeren’s abilities, they will serve you better with what he gains here,” said Kovar. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Aeren swallow nervously. “Lord Aeren may no longer be a lord of the Avatar’s House, but he is now a lord of mine. He has all rights and privileges of the aristocracy. It follows that if he is to learn here and be at my side, he must be of my House. Don’t you agree, Lord Seren?”

The Avatar’s heir looked from Kovar to Aeren, who smiled reassuringly at the child even though Kovar knew Aeren was roiling with anxiety: they had not discussed what Kovar was now telling Seren. “You will be the Avatar someday,” Kovar said, gently. “It wouldn’t be fitting if your most beloved friend wasn’t of the nobility.” Kovar placed his hand on Aeren’s shoulder, and felt relief flood through the boy’s body. Aeren hadn’t known he would retain a title. Losing his rank in the Avatar’s House meant he would have almost no way of approaching Seren as a social peer again. It would be highly unlikely that he would be admitted to the Avatar’s palace, or to court. He might be forbidden to see Seren forever. But as a Lord of Teramis, he was a peer. Aeren closed his eyes and placed his hand gratefully on top of Kovar’s.

“Are you all right, Aeren?” said Seren, his face an open wound of worry. Seeing the two of them together, Kovar thought Seren did not look so very much younger than Aeren after all. He was beginning the transition from small child to the long sunrise of Ovanan youth where Aeren lived. If he were not begotten in the Avatar’s Palace, he would be in the crèche with other boys and girls for training and schooling, waiting for the time he would be adopted into a House. Perhaps he would be not seem so childlike were he raised in the company of other boys and girls. Instead he was locked away, a delicate creature too fragile to be allowed at court. It must be stifling, Kovar thought.

“It’s been a difficult day, Little Star,” said Aeren, smiling broadly. “I’m all right, just tired.”

From the side of the projection, Kovar and Aeren noticed movement, and Saveris came into view. “Lord Seren, what are you doing? Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he asked, gently.

“Don’t! I won’t go! You can’t make me!” Seren attempted to look fierce and snatched his arm away from Saveris who tried to take him by the elbow. He wasn’t entirely unsuccessful at looking intimidating, but anger on that sweet face was incongruous and Kovar found himself fascinated by the play of emotions across Seren’s features. It had been years since he’d spent any time in the company of very young children and their unfiltered behaviors. He had also never known anyone who had experienced the abuse Seren had experienced as a small child. If he did, they had never revealed it to him. He knew of such things happening and had an intellectual awareness of the damage it could do, but the academic knowledge went to war with the emotional reality before him, and the proximity of the horror of it disarmed him. He felt an odd mix of protectiveness and anger, and anxiety in showing any of these emotions, lest he imprint the intensity of them on the boy.

Kovar’s mind spun trying to fathom what depths of pain a child might experience from this abuse, and how one might be formed by it. He thought of the last time he’d seen the charming little Heir Apparent. He radiated happiness and life and was a delight to all who saw him. Kovar was so enchanted by him when he saw him across the room, dancing and snatching at floating light orbs as if they were toys, he opened a tiny corner of his mental barrier for a moment just to feel the pure joy radiating from him. He could feel nothing through the projection now, but he could see the raw feelings of the youth, feelings of pain and fear and terror. He was terrified of losing Aeren. Kovar’s heart seized at it.

Saveris held his arms out and gathered in the boy who struggled without conviction, quickly folding himself into the embrace and burying his head in the strong shoulder offered to him. The boy began to cry, and Saveris murmured words too soft to hear, but looked up at Aeren and glared at him. Aeren glared back.

“Your Highness, the Lord Seren is forbidden from using this channel. Forgive the intrusion,” said Saveris, who was still looking pointedly at Aeren.

“Please Saveris, please don’t tell Etan!” pleaded Seren. “I’ll do anything you say, anything, but please, I have to speak to Aeren, Etan took my comm away, I can’t talk to Aeren now. Please Saveris!”

“I won’t tell him Angel, but you know you must not anger the Avatar, he has so many important things to do and think about,” said Saveris soothingly. “I am here for you, I will not leave you. Aeren has had to go away for awhile, but I’m here to protect you.”

“I love Aeren! I want Aeren! Prince Kovar is not angry I called, are you?” Seren said, turning to him. “He said he was happy to hear from me!”

“Of course,” said Kovar. “I welcome the Lord Seren any time he wishes to speak to me.”

Saveris smiled and held Seren’s chin in his hand, turning the child’s face toward him. “Did you know the Prince of Teramis is my best beloved? Every single day we are together over the comm no matter how far apart we are.”

“Even as we are, Little Star,” said Aeren. Kovar noticed Aeren bristled a bit at the warmth between Seren and Saveris. Kovar sensed a touch of jealousy, and raised a brow in surprise. The depth of feeling Aeren had for Seren was intense. “You are always with me, even when I am on other worlds, isn’t that so?”

Seren’s smile was brilliant. “Yes. I love you best of all things.”

“I love you more than anything in this existence,” said Aeren, solemnly. Aeren was utterly unshielded. Kovar could feel the naked sincerity of his words.

“Has the Lord Etan forbidden you to speak to Lord Aeren?” asked Kovar, looking at the projection.

Seren shook his head vigorously. “He hasn’t spoken to me since Aeren left. The guards took my comm today and no one would tell me why. They told me Aeren was gone, that he was in trouble. I had to sneak in here to find out what was happening. There are people saying awful things about you, Aeren.”

Aeren frowned. “You shouldn’t listen to gossip, Little Star.”

“There was someone saying you were having an affair with the Lady Maret and that you had also been with the Lady Yamera and it made them very angry and they had a fight in public and called you names and - “

“That’s enough, Little Star.”

“It’s all right, I didn’t believe them. I know you don’t like Lady Maret.”

Kovar cleared his throat. Interesting that Etan had not specifically forbidden Aeren and Seren to speak. Etan had publicly denounced Aeren as a potential source of corruption. Privately, he knew completely severing their relationship would be devastating for them both.

“The Avatar took your comm to stop you from finding out unpleasant things,” said Saveris, who was still looking at Aeren with disapproval. “But if you are very good and do as you are told, then I will allow you to use my comm. Though you must promise me not to listen to gossip, it’s bad for you.”

“Aeren is still a Lord. People were telling me he wasn’t. That’s a lie. Prince Kovar says Aeren is a Lord of Teramis. I can have Aeren as my best beloved if he is still a Lord!”

Saveris raised a brow at Kovar and said, “Is he now?” Kovar shrugged.

Aeren said, “I have to stay away from the Palace for awhile. Please, Little Star, be very good and do not anger Etan. I promise with all my heart to speak to you every single day and to come home as soon as I can. But Etan may forbid us to speak if I anger him again. You must be very very good, too! My heart would break if we could not see each other!”

Seren looked relieved and sad, and not entirely certain he was being told the truth, which he was not. “I don’t like it when you are away a long time. I have nightmares. I don’t like to sleep alone.”

“I’m your Shield, Lord Seren,” said Saveris. “I am always here for you. I sleep with you and hold you until you are at rest.”

“But you go away after I fall asleep and don’t hold me all night. Aeren holds me all night. Then I wake up and you are not there. You leave me.”

Aeren and Saveris exchanged glances. “I will stay with you all night whenever I can,” said the Shield.

“Thank you,” said Aeren, softly.

Saveris looked at him, disapproval still on his face, but softened somewhat. “Of course. Anything for His Radiance.” Seren took Saveris’s face in his hand and kissed him lightly on the lips. Kovar felt Aeren stir uncomfortably. “It’s time for you to go to bed,” said Saveris, smiling down at his young charge. “I’ll follow you as soon as I have had time to speak to the Prince."

"All right." The child turned to face Aeren again, holding his hand forward. Aeren held his out as well. They appeared to touch as they met at the picture plane of the projection. “I love you.”

“I love you,” said Aeren solemnly. He leaned forward, and Seren did as well, their faces meeting as their lips touched at the edge of the projection, which shimmered as the kiss lingered. Kovar and Saveris traded knowing glances once again.

Aeren pulled away, smiling. “Good night, Little Star.”

“Good night, best beloved,” said Seren, smiling and waving. “Good night Prince Kovar,” this said much more shyly. The boy ducked his head, and scampered out of view. Saveris watched him go in a swirl of silver hair and pale gossamer nightgown. Kovar and Aeren heard the light sound of the closing door behind him.

Saveris turned then to look at Aeren with a dark smile. “I suppose you owe me some explanation, but for purposes of plausible deniability, I should probably not hear the truth.”

Aeren smiled insincerely back. “Then you won’t get an explanation.”

“Actually,” said Saveris, “I would like to hear how you tried to insinuate your way onto my lover’s cock.”

“Oh, please,” groaned Aeren. “It’s all yours. Really.”

Saveris did not look amused. “It is not that I demand he be all mine, it is that I do not appreciate how you attempted to make him yours,” he hissed in a low voice.

“That’s enough,” barked Kovar. Saveris looked at him sharply. “As you say, you need plausible deniability, and there is little I can tell you. I will tell you that Aeren had his reasons for doing what he did. They were idiotic reasons, and he could have come to me for help without attempting to slide in to my favor on his back.” Aeren flinched. “But no harm was done, and he won’t do it again. At least not to me.”

Saveris looked from Aeren to Kovar and back again. “Etan has confided nothing. And I don’t think he will. But you are banished from the Palace.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Aeren.

“No, it wouldn’t. But this is different, Aeren. I don’t know what you have done, My Lord,” he said, with emphasis, “but I have never seen Etan in such a temper. Inquisitors were here today asking about you.”

Aeren went white. “What did they say?”

“They wanted to know where you were, where you’d been. I had the luxury of not knowing, so that was a blessing. I let my feelings about it leak, so they could delight in thinking they’d cracked the thoughts of a Teramis Shield. But they learned nothing because I know nothing.”

“That’s the way it is going to stay, Saveris,” said Kovar, firmly. Saveris nodded. “I would never do anything to harm you or the Avatar, and I would never do anything that would bring dishonor to my House. You know this.”

“I know, Beloved.”

Kovar placed his hand once again on Aeren’s shoulder. He spoke in the tones of a recital. “Aeren is here for discipline, retraining, and to learn courtly manners. Of which he has absolutely none,” said Kovar. Saveris smiled at this and Aeren rolled his eyes. “That is what you know and that is what you will tell everyone who asks.”

“You’ve taken him on as his Shield Master,” said Saveris quietly.

“Yes,” said Kovar.

Saveris raised a brow. “That will cause a scandal in itself, Kovar.”

Aeren frowned. “Why?”

Saveris looked at him. “Why? Because, you ignorant clod, most Shield Masters take on cup bearers as lovers. They bond the way Shield Mates do, but not as peers, but as master and protégé.”

Aeren’s jaw dropped open and he blushed spectacularly.

Saveris continued, “You are the lover of Etan, which no one is supposed to know, yet everyone does know. Now you have had a glorious fight with Etan, and you end up in House Teramis, with a Shield Master, which makes your station cup bearer. What will people think?”

Aeren turned to Kovar in horror.

“A false trail to follow. I thought it rather clever,” said the Prince.

Aeren groaned.


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