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Title -- "Love and Loyalty: Aeren" Book Two Chapter Four Part One
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. Kovar and Aeren get to know one another a little better.

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

Almost everyone on Ovanan had psionic abilities, so privacy was very difficult to obtain. This made it one of the most valuable commodities on Ovanan. Nothing was more delightful and delicious than getting into other people’s business, especially if the other people were particularly beautiful, powerful, or famous. Since Kovar and Aeren embodied all of these qualities, the gossip about the Prince and the young lord sped around the planet with the speed of thought.

The news made the Avatar Etan, the embodiment of God on the mortal plane, the object of pity, having been cuckolded by his gorgeous, lithe, golden young lover in favor of the stern, mighty, and cruelly handsome obsidian-haired prince. The noble Shield Saveris, who was notable for his bravery as well as his distinct resemblance to the fair Aeren, was said to be bereft at his princely lover’s betrayal, as the romantic liaisons between royal and soldier had become infrequent and passionless, and the prince had traded in his steady companion for the erratic brilliance of a brattish blond boy.

There was a great deal of speculation over what sort of rift this romantic battle might cause between House Teramis and the House of the Avatar, though all knew Teramis was far more powerful, and the Avatar could not afford to lose its patronage. This public humbling of the Avatar was both a surprise to those who knew of Kovar’s devotion, and a delightful source of speculation to those who wished to fill the vacuum that might be caused by Kovar’s absences at the palace, both personal and political.

Handsome Saveris immediately began receiving gifts and flirtatious invitations, as many hoped to enjoy what royalty had enjoyed before them. While most androgynes scorned the mighty soldiers of Teramis as overdeveloped brutes, many secretly harbored a desire for a bit of rough. And Saveris was a very fine bit of rough indeed.

Saveris graciously declined the invitations, as he could not leave the side of the Avatar during this difficult time, no matter how many new beaus decided to try their luck at winning his favor. He kept the gifts, however.

Aeren left a long string of broken-hearted ladies of the court behind, including a few who made lavish claims to having had intimate relations with him when they had not. Aeren was social currency. He was sought for his beauty and delicate sensibilities in the bedroom as well as the political gain one might obtain through the association that many hoped to win by sleeping with the Avatar’s young lover.

Aeren had the Avatar’s ear, so everyone wanted Aeren. Now many feared that having had Aeren might cause one to lose that favor. Aeren became radioactive overnight.

Most who had enjoyed him - or claimed they had - now began to deny they ever knew him lest God’s own wrath suddenly rain down on them for having kissed and told.

Despite the fact that few had monogamous relations on Ovanan, there were things that were done and things that were not done. And whatever Aeren did to Etan was not done.

There was a great deal of debate over exactly what that not-done-thing was.

Gaunt, austere Etan looked like a dried twig next to muscular, tall, and robust Kovar. Kovar was said to be as powerfully endowed as a pile driver and Aeren, who was well-known to favor women over men in romance, had finally found what he wanted in bed, having long been unsatisfied by the Avatar’s equipage. The ladies at court, prepared to shun Aeren, were not prepared to shun Aeren forever, and desperately hoped his tastes were not permanently changed by the profound experience of the Prince of Teramis between his thighs. Kovar took no prisoners in romance, and was domineering in all other things. Uncontrollable Aeren would now be controlled. The aether tingled with speculation on what interesting forms that control might take.

All of this speculation swirled around the planet before Aeren had time for breakfast the next day, and before Kovar completed his morning ablutions in the gymnasium. Eyes followed every move of the stately noble who showed no signs of distress, or even a spring in his step at having his passions rejuvenated by a beautiful young lover, though some exchanged glances wondering how Kovar could break the heart of the much adored and popular Saveris. Forty years together, but too much time recently apart was to blame. Still, few believed the separation was permanent. But if it was, there were many prepared to take Kovar’s place, hence the sudden rush that morning to send gifts to the grieving Saveris. Applications for transfer to the Avatar’s Guard also began showing up on Kovar’s desk, though whether out of loyalty to the Avatar, disapproval of Kovar, or in hopes of securing a rendezvous with Saveris, none would say.

Those in the upper levels of the court of Teramis knew that gossip and reality diverged somewhat. Aeren had arrived two days earlier wearing the sort of clothes delectable young men didn’t wear very long before they found their naked legs in the air and their depths plumbed. Shortly after, he’d been carried out of Kovar’s office bloodied, bruised, and raging - ravishment or lover’s quarrel? Kovar’s courtiers discounted ravishment as a possibility without question. The Prince was far too noble to commit an act so sordid as rape, even if he did break the boy’s nose. Fortunately, none of the Prince’s enemies had witnessed the incident, though there was talk about a healer and a blunt denial, heard in gymnasium from Aeren’s own lips, that he had suffered any carnal abuse.

Aeren appeared the next morning, humbly dressed, meek, and surrounded by a Quadrant, who marched him off to the gymnasium where Aeren soon found himself getting smacked in the face by Kovar in front of the entire court, and publicly disowned by the Avatar.

Speculation among those who had seen these events ran toward Aeren having seduced Kovar (in the throes one of his legendary, nigh uncontrollable passions, no doubt, and too long separated from the man he truly loved to resist the notorious Aeren’s wiles,) only to find the liaison incurred the disapproval of the Avatar, who tossed the boy out. Nobly, Kovar had taken responsibility for the churl, and had done the right thing by the Avatar, the boy, and his own honor by publicly acknowledging Aeren, taking him under his protection as Shield Master. Nothing more could be done to save face for everyone involved.

There were also those who knew the Prince dutifully spoke with Saveris the next morning, and that the words they shared were as warm as ever. Kovar had, they assumed, taken comfort in Aeren with the permission of Saveris (who had lovers in the Avatar’s Guard in his long absences from Kovar, part of a longstanding agreement between them,) and there was no real rift at all.

Arguments had already erupted over Kovar’s honor, and duels would be fought. It would be a lively season.

The gossip from within the court and the gossip from without would soon meet somewhere in the middle causing a good deal of confusion, which was exactly what Kovar wanted. Unfortunately for Aeren, no matter which way the gossip flowed, it did not flatter him, and within hours he was about to become one of the most unpopular people on Ovanan.

Aeren was accustomed to being the source of scandal, much of it calculated, as Kovar himself had just done as well, but he had yet to become aware of the swift spread of the latest chatter. Aeren had expected early morning reveille and sweaty courses in gymnasium with men and women twice his size for added humiliation, but Kovar had allowed him to sleep in, isolating him in the royal apartments.

Aeren slept deeply that night on the wide luxurious bed, the curtains drawn around him, blotting out the rising sun from the enormous windows. On awakening, he was confused, his mind bleary, unable to recall where he was. He opened the curtains and the bright light jolted him to awareness. The sight of the mountain range in the morning made Aeren’s heart catch. He could not wait to get back to his true home: not the Avatar’s Palace, but the mountains, where he felt alone and safe, surrounded by nothing but snow, ice, and singing crystal. On rare occasions, he would escape into the icy wastes with a lover, the purity of the isolation freeing him and his senses. But few others enjoyed total immersion as he did, the intense focus on nothing but his partner, separated from everything and everyone else on Ovanan by miles of mountains and immense deserts. It made them afraid.

It liberated Aeren.

The only thing that would bring him back to the Avatar’s Palace, would be Seren, Aeren swore to himself. And then, someday, he hoped to take him away, to show him the beautiful peace of the faraway mountain ranges where he lived, in secret lodges, where he mined ancient crystal caches and sped over the snow in his sledge with wild abandon. He sighed, his heart filling with the memory of the last sight he had of the boy, achingly beautiful and sweet, and his lips pressed against the projection to meet Aeren’s own.

Aeren shook his head. He slowly crawled out of bed, looking around his new apartment with real awareness for the first time.

His rooms, once the rooms of Saveris, were luxurious and severe at once, paneled in rich alien woods, deeply colored rose marble and quartz, and dotted with surprising accents of blue gems. Plush furniture sculpted in clean lines, upholstered in creams, rose, gold and burgundy was arranged in comfortable tableaux about the room. The colors here would flatter Saveris’s creamy flesh and hair, Aeren thought. Beyond the color palette, which must have been chosen to make Saveris appear at his best when he was naked, nothing else could be seen of Saveris in the room. There were no personal items. Saveris claimed the apartment had been turned over to visiting courtesans after he’d taken up residence in Kovar’s rooms. Aeren tried to imagine what kind of person Kovar would choose for hire, but couldn’t picture Kovar with a courtesan at all, and concluded Saveris had made the claim to shock.

Aeren walked his large apartment like a caged animal, its comforts lost on him. He knew why he was here, had, in some sense, chosen it. But he feared the path he had accepted, even though he knew he was doing what was best for Seren.

Breakfast was already laid out on a handsome table near the great windows: fruit and fruit drinks and creamy cheeses. Aeren was hungry, but could do no more than pick absently at the plate each time he walked by it. Finally, he made his way to the water closet, a large, marble room appointed in creams and gold, with separate facilities for bath, shower, and toilette lined with mirrors, and a discrete closet for body functions.

He bound his mass of hair under a large towel and stepped into the shower, willing the weight and grime of the dark task ahead of him to drain away with the hot water. He looked at himself in the glass after he emerged, naked, examining his face and figure for signs of the battle he’d lost to Kovar over the desk. The bruises had faded, but the psi-blocks remained at his temples, spreading angry red blotches across his delicate skin. The drain from the psi-blocks made him tired and irritable, and the burning pain and itch of the metal clamps hurt him more than he would admit to Kovar. Despite having taken a pill to stave it off, he also had a bit of a hangover. Frowning, he went in search of clothes.

His ill-fitting cadet’s uniform was nowhere to be seen, but some of his own clothes from the Avatar’s palace, those deemed suitable by Kovar’s staff (or perhaps even reviewed by Kovar himself, Aeren did not know,) had been carefully prepared and closeted for him in a massive, half empty wardrobe room. His practical outer gear was here, the big parkas, his gloves, thermal undergarments, and several pairs of snow boots. All highly personal and idiosyncratic favorites that Aeren was glad hadn’t been discarded, as they were the only clothes he took with him into the mountains. He’d customized them to his needs over the years and relied on them. Booting the customizations into new clothes would have been a great inconvenience. Aeren valued few things more than he valued his snow gear.

Gone was his elaborate court wear, which he didn’t miss at all, but it had been expensive and he stung thinking how his assets had been seized by Etan. Only that which was sober, well crafted, and useful remained. A few other pieces he did not recognize had been added to the wardrobe, all of the finest stuff, and all sensible choices: trousers, shirts, linen, smallclothes, displaying minimal decoration or pretense, tasteful and understated. Some sported the Teramis seal, others Kovar’s personal crest, claiming him.

A large jewelry cabinet was built into the wall. Aeren opened it, expecting to find it empty. It was not. There were hair ornaments, some of them set with handsome and valuable stones, jeweled collars, a plain gold bracelet, a circlet of elaborately worked gold set with a large ruby, and a ring with Kovar’s seal. They were very fine, some quite old and highly decorative things in marked contrast to the simple clothing Aeren would wear. For a moment Aeren thought they must have been left by Saveris, but then he saw the sigil of his name engraved on the band of the bracelet: suitable ornaments for the favored of a powerful Prince. Someone must have come in while Aeren slept and stocked the cabinet. Perhaps it was Kovar’s silent valet Asha. Aeren took a hair band of red velvet set with garnets and closed the cabinet.

Aeren drew on a pair of black pants from his own wardrobe and a white shirt provided by Kovar with an almost invisible gold reticulated pattern in the cloth, and a pair of household slippers, black, but embroidered with the Teramis crest. He put on the slippers, grimaced at the crest, and kicked them off, his bare cold feet seeking purchase upon the thick carpet spread over the cold marquetry floor of the wardrobe. He picked up a sash to secure at his waist, then noted Kovar’s seal upon it. He put that back as well. His great mane of hair he secured into a tail with the hair band. His hair reached his knees in spirals of cream and gold, small tendrils still damp from the shower where they had peeked out under the towel.

The trousers hugged the contours of his handsome legs, but the shirt was loose and flattered his form with graceful undulations about his torso as he walked. It bared his neck and teased a glimpse of his chest and smooth shoulders. The simple clothes Kovar had chosen suited him, he thought, grudgingly.

He turned from the expansive closet and noticed an altar to the God, modestly situated in a far corner of the room, a small pile of devotional crystals at its base. He frowned. He strode to the closet, picked up the carpet and threw it over the altar. Perhaps later, if no one noticed, he’d dump the altar out the window. His eyes scanned the windows for signs of a latch. No luck. Aeren began pacing again.

He found the slim door leading to Kovar’s bedchamber. It was set into the wall, almost hidden by the pattern of the wood paneling. Curiously, Aeren tested the lock. It was open.

He hadn’t expected the latch to turn under his hand. There was nothing between his apartment and the Prince’s private chamber but this door. Aeren’s senses tingled with danger. Was this a test? Surely Kovar had security to alert him if anyone entered this room.

Aeren bit his lip as he stood at the threshold, one more step to go before transgression. He grinned and stepped into Kovar’s apartment.

It had seemed dark and overwhelming when he’d been escorted here in the evening, with the rich red bed draperies and deep wood accents, but in the light of day, with the bright sun shining over the snowy mountain range, it seemed warm and comforting, enveloping. It was, as Aeren would expect of the private sanctuary of a prince, a gloriously beautiful room, stately and yet comfortable, with seating areas around the massive fireplace, the beautiful window vista, and a handsome and very old office arrangement that was out of fashion, but looked quite right where it was, even if a decorator would probably have tossed it.

He hadn’t noticed the night before, but now realized that Kovar’s desk, on which he had viewed the projection, was situated at the opening to a private library with walls lined with shelves, books, and scrolls. There were pictures of Saveris everywhere, of other men and women Aeren could not identify. A large picture of a stern, powerful-looking but rather plain brown haired man whose arm was around a much-younger looking Kovar was displayed next to an arrangement of small weapons and what appeared to be decorative alien artifacts, carefully laid over what Aeren realized was a very old mourning sash. There were other pictures of the man, and many showed Kovar at his side or in loose embraces, smiling and relaxed, and, Aeren noticed, without the fringe of hair on his forehead that Kovar wore now. Aeren had never seen him without it. The naked broad smooth brow made Kovar look open and placid.

There were so many knickknacks and bibelots about the shelves, and several large shields on the walls, Aeren could have spent weeks sorting through them. Kovar displayed remembrances of what must have been every military campaign he’d ever been on.

Though the display had nothing of the formality of a museum, Aeren carefully grasped his hands behind his back as if afraid he might cause harm. There were crystals too, sealing in memories that Aeren did not dare touch. A particularly fine crystal was placed at the bottom of a beautiful portrait of Saveris, looking golden and radiant, and wearing a classically simple cloth drape over one shoulder and a sword and nothing else. Aeren pondered what sort of memories would be on a crystal displayed under a picture like that. And he felt a twinge of discomfort, as if he were looking at an upgraded model of himself. He wasn’t used to feeling inadequate about his looks.

The shelves had dust arrays to sweep the area, otherwise, Aeren mused, the cleaning regimen over all the things displayed would take half the household staff’s energies. He thought of Etan’s libraries, cluttered, with no arrays, and an endless source of sneezes whenever Aeren visited them.

Kovar’s shelves weren’t half so crowded or disorderly, but pleasantly cluttered in a way that surprised Aeren. The items spoke of long friendships and a life of endless adventure. The glacial, stern Kovar was revealed on these shelves as a man with many loved ones and many treasured memories. Aeren had trouble reconciling the display of memories with the distant and cold Prince he knew.

Still, Aeren had to admit he did not know Kovar very well. Aeren had always avoided him, even as a young boy, warned to keep his distance from any powerful psionic who might discern what he was, root out his forbidden gifts. He spent a great deal of energy blocking himself and damping his power, trying to control his aura to avoid Kovar’s notice whenever he’d been in his presence. It was desperation that had driven him to come here, to try to seduce Kovar into giving him access to his House. He’d done the trick with others more times than he could count, and was always successful at it: have sex, and then leave his target sleeping and satiated while he used his powers of disruption to get into any system he wanted to root about in. Information and access was all his with a thought.

But fighting Kovar was fighting out of his class. He mentally kicked himself again and again for even trying it. He’d handed his entire life over to what might be the only man on Ovanan who could help him. He was also one of the few men on Ovanan who could destroy everything Aeren had worked toward.

He touched the psi-blocks at his temples. They stabbed and burned. He felt disoriented, unable to feel his surroundings as was his normal ability as a sensitive. The library should have been awash in emotions. But the pictures and scrolls told him nothing but what he could see with his eyes. Aeren didn’t trust his eyes alone to tell him what he saw, as he’d rarely had to rely on them. Usually he was so sensitive he spent most of his efforts trying to block the world out. And now the entire world was blocked to him.

The picture of the strange, brown-haired man: Aeren thought he saw affection there. What kind? And who was he? His arms rested lightly around Kovar’s waist in one image, in another over Kovar’s shoulder. There was a sigil on several of the items near the images: the name Aros. It was emblazoned on a sword, a shield. And the sigil for Kovar was entwined with it.

Aeren followed the trail of momentos with the sigil on them, here and there on shelves, on the wall, carefully nestled among a small box engraved with the sigil for Saveris, near a pile of what looked like plant seed pods, a small length of frayed rope, and a silver tray which held a ring and a piece of cloth stained dark with what looked like dried blood. There was also a large goblet of what looked like plain brass: the goblet of a cupbearer?

The trail led Aeren to another of one of Kovar’s many devotional altars. Aeren sniffed in derision. Kovar had more of the things than the Avatar had in the temple. Everyone knew he was religious, but Aeren had no inkling of just how far his faith ran until now. The deep red velvet prayer pillow in front of it had the imprints of a pair of knees on it. Kovar spent a lot of time prostrate on the thing, thought Aeren. The altar was empty but for a dagger and a few devotional crystals at its base. The sigil of Kovar was upon the scabbard, but the blade was signed “Aros”. The blade’s handle was plain but the scabbard was magnificently worked in elaborate silver filigree. No warrior would carry such a dainty thing into battle, thought Aeren. It must be a reliquary. It was beautiful, so elaborate it was mesmerizing to look upon, tracings upon tracings that dazzled the eye and drew one in. Fascinated, Aeren reached out to touch it.

“Don’t.” The voice was deep and quiet and commanding. Aeren’s blood froze.

So accustomed was he to relying on his psionic senses, he didn’t know how to operate in a world in which he had none, didn’t realize Kovar had walked up behind him. How long had he been there? Aeren swallowed and slowly turned to face the Prince, remembering Kovar’s warning of only yesterday. Betrayal would see Aeren out in the snow, all his defenses gone, houseless, penniless, a social outcast, and his work to avenge Seren jeopardized, his next grand adventure running from murder charges.

He cursed himself. Always pushing limits, always impulsive. “What have I done?” he groaned inwardly.

The Prince stepped to face Aeren, who was desperately trying to control his anxiety. Kovar was wearing another one of his magnificent royal ensembles. He looked splendid. His height and presence made Aeren feel like a child. Everything here made Aeren feel like a child. He hated it.

“My home is your home. As my squire, you have access to my private chambers. Including this archive,” Kovar said gesturing to the large shelves filled with curiosities. “I left the door open for a reason.” At this he looked down at Aeren, his face as still as ice. “But you are not to touch my personal things unless you are given permission to do so.” His voice was ice as well.

Aeren swallowed.

“You have permission to access the comm here,” at this Kovar indicated the desk, “to speak to the Avatar’s heir once each evening as we agreed. You will do this in my presence. When I am assured you children can behave yourselves, I will allow you to have a comm, with limited outside access, of your own. You may also enjoy any book, any scroll, any entertainment you find here in my library, but you are not to read or see anything I do not approve on the general access comm.”

“As my squire,” Kovar continued, “you will attend me, my physical needs. Some of the duties of my valet will now be yours. You will hold my cup and you will wait upon me at worship. I will expect you to join me in that worship.” Aeren flushed, and quickly bowed his head to hide his anger. He hoped he appeared demure. He was surprised, then, when Kovar touched his chin with one hand and raised his head. Kovar ran his fingers lightly over one of the psi-blocks at Aeren’s temple. “These hurt you. How much?”

Aeren was flustered for a moment. “It’s all right.”

“You’re lying,” said Kovar flatly. “Let me feel it.”

Aeren blinked. Kovar was asking for access to his mind. If the Prince knew Aeren was lying, the pain must show on his face. Well, if a moment in Aeren’s mind was going to hurt Kovar, Aeren was for it. He let Kovar in. He felt the lightest brush of Kovar’s presence, and a quick retreat.

“You should have told me,” Kovar said brusquely.

“I thought a warrior of Teramis would appreciate stoicism,” said Aeren sarcastically.

“We appreciate stoicism, but not stupidity.” Kovar touched the psi-block again with the lightest brush of his forefinger. “These need to come off. Follow me.” He strode smartly to the door leading to Aeren’s room, and Aeren followed a moment after, stepping warily behind his Master, still not sure whether or not he was all in for what Kovar was doing for him and Seren. He wanted to place his complete trust in the Prince, and had given him almost everything Kovar could do to destroy him if he chose, but years of hiding, hiding what he was, hiding from other Ovanan, and keeping the grim secrets of the royal courts left him bruised and weary. He’d been drunk yesterday, perhaps too drunk to make the best decisions about what he should reveal. But then, perhaps he’d made himself drunk so he wouldn’t have to take responsibility for those decisions later.

He needed Kovar, needed to be able to trust him absolutely, to surrender: the depth of that surrender frightened him. He realized that by leaving that private door between them unlocked and allowing Aeren access to his chamber, Kovar was placing in him a great trust also, and asking Aeren to do the same. “I will come into you, and you will come into me,” it said.

Aeren stepped into his warm, bright apartment to find an Octet of Shields, Kovar’s secretary, Asha, and two healers waiting. A chair was in the center of the group. Aeren froze.

“We have no way of knowing how competent you are at psionic control. When we remove those blocks, you may cause damage. The healers are here to deal with any mistakes you may make,” said Kovar. “Sit.”

Aeren gathered his dignity, and did as he was told. One of the healers, the same healer who had attended his bruises in gymnasium the day before, touched Aeren’s arm gently.

“No. I’ll do it.” Kovar waved the healer away. “Stand back. And keep those blocks up until I tell you to let go.”

There were surprised glances between the Octet and healers, none of whom knew anything of the nature of Aeren’s powers, but correctly sensing an edge of danger in Kovar’s order. Kovar leaned over Aeren and gently placed his hand to Aeren’s temple. “I’ll take them off one at a time, Aeren. You may feel a backlash, you may feel nothing.”

Aeren hadn’t considered how the power of a disruptor might react under the sudden release of blockage from a psionic inhibitor, and his eyes grew wide. “Good God,” he thought, “I could kill the Prince of Teramis!”

Kovar caught the thought, and smiled. “Not a good demonstration of your ability to control your mind, Aeren,” he returned, silently, watching with amusement that blush that Aeren could not control once more. “You could kill me, and then you’d be dead in the next second. There is an Octet watching you. So I suggest you don’t kill me.”

Aeren gulped, closed his eyes, and rallied all his strength to shield his mind. It had always been his strongest ability, his shield impenetrable until now, unyielding and solid as stone, the gift of a Teramis parentage. But stone could crack. He’d never faced more than a few psionics at once, and never the best that Teramis had to offer. Etan had not pushed his abilities, afraid of challenging a disruptor beyond his limit. Aeren didn’t know what his limits were. He breathed in deeply, and gripped the edges of the chair.

Again he felt the brush of Kovar’s mind against his own, this time bouncing off Aeren’s block as lightly as a breath. Then he felt Kovar’s fingers working at the little metal clamp, which gave way with a light click. Tiny prongs released his flesh, and he felt warm blood run down the side of his face. Then he gasped, and his body seized, his aura, no longer dampened by the power of the psi-inhibitors, flaring and crackling like lightning. Around him, the Octect cried out. Kovar jumped back at the sight of the dark wisp of energy at the edges of Aeren’s aura, the telltale sign of a disruptor. He knew none of the other men in this room had ever experienced it. And if Aeren made a mistake, it would be the last thing any of them ever saw.

He could sense the Octet assessing Aeren. Fading fast was their confusion over the Prince having chosen an androgyne with a promiscuous reputation for the extraordinary honor of cupbearer. Watching the power swirling around him like a whip, they knew there was more to this boy than a pretty piece of ass. The Octet, holding on to their blocks with all their strength, struggled to shield the flow of energy around Aeren, which flicked back and forth like the tongue of a demon. In moments it faltered withdrawing into Aeren like a wisp of cloud. The Octet glanced at one another, one letting out a breath that was a whistle. There was something in this boy. Something powerful. No wonder Kovar was interested in him.

Aeren was sweating with the effort to control his power. His eyes still closed, he said, “I’m all right. I can take it.” Kovar hesitated then stepped forward again, hands on the second psi-block. With its removal, the reaction was even stronger, Aeren crying aloud in pain, the aura arching and reaching out. The Octet pummeled it, and Kovar’s aura flared to stop its reach. The Prince smiled broadly at the battle, the best psionic challenge he’d had in awhile, his Octet holding the line against Aeren’s wild assault. One of the men faltered, but in that moment, Aeren regained control, withdrawing his aura once again into himself, his body slowly relaxing, breathing deeply. His hands released the edges of the chair and he buried his face in them. Blood dripped down his cheeks. “God!” he cried, trembling.

Kovar turned to the Shield who had faltered. “All right?” The man nodded. A healer stepped toward him to verify.

The other healer moved on Kovar’s silent command to examine Aeren. The boy was dizzy, and he could not focus. The healer gently touched his face, his head. The wounds at his temples closed leaving pink marks that would be gone in the next day, the angry signs of allergic reaction fading as well. Aeren sighed gratefully, the pain fading. “He needs shahna,” said the healer, who carefully wiped the blood from Aeren’s face. “And food. He’s completely drained.”

Kovar wrinkled his nose at the mention of shahna, but in a moment, Asha was there, holding it out to Aeren who announced, “I hate this stuff.”

“We are of a kind in that,” thought Kovar, even as he frowned and motioned to Aeren to do as he was told. Another servant arrived with a full tray of food, and placed it on a nearby table.

“You did not see what happened here,” he said to his healers and the Octet. Ascent flowed to him in a psionic wave. “Leave us,” ordered Kovar. The Shields left, glancing at Aeren with interest as they did so. Asha, Aeren noted, did not leave. Nor, he saw, did Kovar’s secretary Erastos who held an elaborately carved box on a cushion.

Aeren was still unsteady on his feet, but he made his way to the table and dug into the food. The morning’s fruit tray was pushed aside. “I sometimes get sick after shahna. I’m warning you,” Aeren said. Kovar was nonplussed. He’d seen enough of Aeren getting sick the day before, and he couldn’t imagine whatever he’d do after a dose of shahna could be worse. Aeren polished off the shahna and then moaned with pleasure over a meat roll. “At least if I puke it won’t be dry heaves. You have a great cook.”

“Several of them,” agreed Kovar.

The Prince motioned to Erastos who presented Kovar the box and placed it upon the table in front of Aeren. Kovar waved the secretary out of the room.

“This is for you,” Kovar said.

Aeren stopped in mid chew, his mouth comically full.

Kovar suppressed a smirk, and then opened the box to show a pair of daggers in handsome scabbards, daggers and sheaths emblazed with sigils for Kovar and for Aeren.

“The Shield Master and his squire wear matched blades to honor their bond,” explained Kovar.

Aeren blinked. “Oh.”

Kovar picked up the dagger with Aeren’s name upon it and withdrew the blade. Then he picked up his own dagger and did the same. He sheathed Aeren’s dagger in his own scabbard, and his own dagger in Aeren’s scabbard. Then he handed the blade sheathed in the scabbard with his sigil to Aeren. “You wear this one,” he said.

Aeren accepted the blade with a curious expression turning it over in his hands. It was beautifully crafted, as all things Kovar chose were. Well, he could certainly afford them, thought Aeren. The blade was old, but the scabbard and engravings were new. Kovar said, “My blade in your scabbard and your blade in mine indicates that we are lovers.”

Aeren’s jaw dropped. Kovar’s face was emotionless. Aeren’s eyes darted to Asha, who also showed no expression.

“I wear this,” Aeren said, dully.

“The symbolism should be obvious.” Aeren blushed. “Also,” said Kovar, “ I should tell you that you are to take no other lovers while in training.”

Aeren went a deeper shade of red. “Good God.”

“Not even him,” Kovar said.

Aeren bit his lip, recognition dawning: the blade on the altar, with Kovar’s sigil, and that of the brown-haired man Aros, sheathed the one with the other. He looked at Kovar, his eyes wide. “Your Shield Master…” he thought. Aeren realized he had been told what Kovar wanted to say to him without speaking a word, without projecting a thought. He looked down at the blade again. “Thank you,” he murmured.

“Eat. You’re still weak,” Kovar said, picking food off Aeren’s plate. He motioned to Asha, who rushed to the door to receive another tray from a servant with more food for Kovar. Placing it in front of the Prince, he tucked in with enthusiasm. “Starving,” he said. Psionic energy drained the body faster than physical exertion. Powerful Ovanan psionics ate copious amounts of food. In the grip of psionic starvation, their voraciousness was unseemly, and few allowed themselves to be observed dining in the presence of others. Eating was an intimate act. Banquets and state dinners were for show. Everyone dined before they arrived.

Aeren consumed his food mechanically, the import of what Kovar had done in giving him the dagger sitting heavily on him. The man in the picture must have been his Shield Master and lover, from long ago, cherished and enshrined. The mourning sash was old. How long ago was it since he had passed, Aeren wondered? He felt churlish and ungrateful for questioning Kovar’s methods. Kovar was going to great lengths to cover for Aeren, to set up a front for them so they could pursue justice for Seren and the abused and murdered children. And he was childishly squirming with embarrassment over it all despite lying to Kovar and Saveris the night before that the only opinion he cared about was Seren’s. He picked up one morsel after another, gnawing at the food without tasting it as shame spread over him like an ague.

Kovar plowed through his meal and made no indication that he noticed anything wrong with Aeren’s appetite. Instead, he reached across the table and snatched another meat roll from Aeren’s plate. “Love these,” he said. Aeren managed a mild smile, and then ate one himself. The tension in the silence began to fade.

Relaxing, Aeren noticed Kovar had once more made subtle arrangements for Aeren’s comfort: the chair he was sitting in was proportioned for his height, while the chair Kovar was sitting in suited his bigger frame. No detail seemed to escape him. Aeren began to wonder if the man ever slept. But then, he’d seen him with Saveris, had even seen them in bed together in the Avatar’s palace, and, of course, Kovar had a bed right next door. Kovar must use the damned thing for rest at some point.

Kovar paused in mid bite, then turned his head toward the main door of Aeren’s apartment. Erastos entered, looking harried. Aeren had only seen the man a few times, and realized he almost always looked harried, while most of Kovar’s sidekicks were as emotive as granite.

“Your Highness, a delegation of Inquisitors is here,” Erastos said nervously. “They are demanding an audience.”

Aeren froze and his spine tingled. Kovar continued to leisurely munch his meat roll. When he finished, he wiped his hand fastidiously on a napkin.

“Demanding,” Kovar said, “and at this hour. I have not digested my mid morning meal. They can wait.”

“Yes, Your Highness. Shall I direct them to attend you in the Reception Hall, or would you care for somewhere more private?” asked Erastos.

“You can tell them,” said Kovar in measured tones, “they can stick their heads up their asses and look for enlightenment there, for all I care.”

Erastos gulped. “The Reception Hall. Yes, of course.” He rushed out.

Aeren’s face was ash, his mouth open as he looked at the prince. “Finish your meal,” Kovar ordered.

Kovar, Kovar, Kovar

Date: 2016-10-02 10:02 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The mighty Prince telling some goup to stick their heads up their fundaments - and having seen Hancock you DON'T want to encourage this prince to do THAT, because he could. :-D

RE: Kovar, Kovar, Kovar

Date: 2016-10-02 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
He sure would!

Date: 2016-10-02 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sorry it is taking so long to approve comments, livejournal is being very wonky and I can't post!

Date: 2016-10-03 02:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
OK livejournal finally working, I've had trouble posting for days.

Date: 2016-10-05 01:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"Kovar took no prisoners in romance, and was domineering in all other things."

So just why has he had my affection in chains, all these years, if he takes no prisoners?


Date: 2016-10-05 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, he doesn't take you prisoner...he just SLAYS you! HA!

Date: 2016-10-06 07:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well Kovar IS `drop dead' gorgeous, so I suppose that explains it then..........snicker

Date: 2016-10-15 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sorry, missed this comment before! Oops!!!

Drop dead gorgeous indeed!


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