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Title -- "Love and Loyalty: Aeren" Book Two Chapter Seven 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. Kovar and Aeren get to know one another a little better. Comedy and Drama Ensues.

PART I PART II PART III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII Part VIX Part X Part XI Part XII Part XIII Part XIV Part XV Part XVI Part XVII Part VXIII Part VIX

Aeren did not intend to take a nap as he’d been ordered to do, but he found himself dozing off anyway, until the Prince informed him the tram was nearing their destination and it was time to gear up. The Prince and his squire were suited for the worst Ovanan winters had to throw at them: undersuits with temperature controls, oversuits with secondary temperature control, parkas, masks, heavy boots, ski-shoes and hoods.

The climate control waned near the edge of the city. The outer limits were cool, but not nearly as cold as the snowy plains beyond. Kovar hesitated as they stepped off the tram platform. Then he nudged Aeren.

The squire turned to see the Inquisitors standing at the far edge of the platform, surrounded by two Octets of Kovar’s finest. The Inquisitors looked quite put out, and were underdressed for the cool weather that chilled the platform even though they were still on the city’s underground level.

You said they were gone! Aeren thought.

They are gone. From the palace. Kovar returned. They took my private tram here hours ago. But I’m afraid there has been a serious delay with the transport from Rereshad. An avalanche. Or a storm. Or a mechanical malfunction. They could be stuck here for awhile. And them without proper coats, he added with mock concern.

No one appeared to be providing warm cover for the Inquisitors, or any other hospitality. They sipped hot drinks bought from a cheap walkway vendor nearby. Kovar felt Aeren’s amusement at the sight of their sour faces. Then the men slipped into the crowd of workers emerging onto the glidewalks to the city above where the cold air sent a blast of chill down the tubes. Kovar’s long legs cut a swath through the throng, Aeren struggling to keep up. Teramis men and women were almost all taller than he was, though servants and visitors from other Houses were more common on the outer edges of the capital city. Kovar navigated the streets and alleys with the certainty of a man who had done it many times before.

In minutes, they arrived at the office of a dealer who rented and sold snow skiffs. The place was scruffy, and the offerings were second rate and overpriced. The last place a Prince would do business, which is why Kovar did business there.

Shields were common customers, palace Shields rarer, and the dealer looked Aeren over skeptically. Aeren’s eccentric snowsuit and bright red and white parka with its ancient, intricate crystal adornments had been replaced by the illusion of a plain student’s severe environment wear. The enhancer also dampened his aura until it disappeared, Aeren’s glamour gone, but Kovar had not calibrated it to make him taller. “Cadet,” said Kovar, noting the dealer’s doubtful glare.

“Is he legal? I won’t have to do with any funny business going on with boys from the creche,” said the dealer with a growl.

Kovar hesitated taking in the rude suggestion with mild shock. “Very legal,” he said. “My squire.” Kovar presented Aeren’s fake credentials beside his own.

“Short for a palace Shield,” said the dealer, looking Aeren up and down.

“He’s not a Palace Shield, I am. He’s a cadet,” Kovar repeated.

“Do you have problems with that sort of thing?” said Aeren.

“What?” the dealer barked.

“Boys coming through here,” Aeren said. Kovar sent him a warning glance. He was curious about the answer as well, though proper protocol would have been for the squire to remain silent in the presence of his Master. Kovar sent Aeren a scolding thought.

“I do wonder,” said the dealer. “But you don’t look like the sort. You’re older, now that I get a look at you. Not too good-looking.”

Aeren raised a brow, and Kovar said, “Adults taking children out of the crèche? Renting skiffs from you?”

The dealer nodded. “Can’t even remember the last time I saw a child outside the Choosing. It’s hard to tell if one’s a real neonate, unless they’re very small. Sometimes those androgynes come though here and I don’t know what I’m looking at, skinny gits. But there were a dozen and more moving through here some weeks back. Real children. No mistake.”

“You should have reported it,” said Kovar, smoothly.

The dealer scanned Kovar’s identity card and credit chit. “I did, didn’t I? Sent a report right up to the palace grand mucky mucks, never heard from them. Some courtier must be diddling about with it, probably gives little boys a prod himself. Those coming through here, they had palace clearance, but funny business if you ask me. Bet the Prince wouldn’t like it, though I hear he’s got himself a pretty boy of his own. Thank the God it’s not a nipper from the crèche. Funny business, that. Prince wouldn’t like it,” he said again with greater emphasis.

“The Prince would not like it,” said Kovar crisply. “I’ll file a report when I get back. Do you have your original complaint?”

“Got it right here, don’t I? Right and proper.” He looked Kovar up and down, too. “You’re renting from me on the cheap and you don’t look the type to have a direct line to the Prince, but for all you’re a lot better looking than your squire, there.”

“We don’t choose squires for their looks but for their abilities,” said Kovar, primly.

The dealer snorted.

“Let me have a copy and I’ll see it gets to the right people,” said Kovar. “I have top security clearance, you can see that on my card.”

The dealer waved a crystal and transferred the data to Kovar’s tablet. “No offense. About your looks, I mean,” he said to Aeren, as he did so.

“None taken,” said Aeren, who was now very curious how he appeared, not having had a look at himself with the enhancer on. Kovar looked much like Kovar, tall and handsome bearing a prominent nose not unlike his real one, but with dark brown hair, eyes and skin. The famous fringe was gone. He was so well known for it that he would be hard to recognize without it were nothing else changed.

“No accounting for taste,” said the dealer. “I mean, look at the Prince. He’s got Lord Saveris and he throws him over for a skinny, fluffy-haired girlish-looking boy. I saw him on the comm. Pretty enough, but not the beauty everyone says he is, and a man wants a man! Boy like that good for nothing but sucking cock, and not even sopping it in deep you can bet, how’s he going to keep up with a hard squaddie from Teramis in bed, I ask you! Shred that scraggy little bottom on the first poke.

“And I’ll tell you this for nothing,” he continued with enthusiasm, “I sighted Lord Saveris in person close up and if he isn’t the finest-looking man I ever saw! The ass on him! Like rock. If I had that I my bed, I’d never stop pounding it. Friend of mine said he saw him at Festival and the head of his cock is as big as a fist. There’s quality for you!”

“You are speaking of the Avatar’s Shield,” said Aeren, stiffly.

“Oh, I am indeed,” said the dealer conspiratorially, leaning over the desk and leering at Aeren. “Tell you what, little sir, you and your friend got the Prince’s ear, tell him if he’s finished with that mighty piece Saveris, I’ll be happy to take his place. Got my rod ready to go to work.” He made a pumping motion with his hand. “I’ll keep the Avatar’s Shield warm until the Prince gets tired of that boney little blond slut he just adopted and wants real man ass again.”

“Time to go!” said Kovar brightly.

The dealer tapped the tablet. “Purpose of trip? You left it blank.”

Kovar smiled, then tapped in the word “Vacation”.

“Classy establishment,” said Aeren later.

They’d shared few words since leaving the dealer’s lot. Aeren insisted on piloting the skiff since he knew the trails over the mountains to his secret lair and Kovar didn’t. They flew low, also at Aeren’s insistence, as they’d paid extra for cloaking, which would help them hide from the poor grade detection systems smugglers and pirates used, but wouldn’t hide them from the better grade devices the military employed at higher altitudes. He was a good pilot, Kovar noted: this revelation took at least an hour to sink in before he was able to shake off the impulse to grab the console. Only then he was finally able to relax and trust Aeren’s skills.

“I learn more from people like him,” said Kovar, “than I do from well mannered courtiers.” He leaned back in his chair reviewing the data the dealer had given him on his tablet. For their excursion, Kovar had selected a dubious – looking skiff with faded yellow paint and the scars of blaster fire on its sides. It didn’t look at all like the sort of thing anyone with taste or money might take into the wastelands and Kovar hoped it would be a less appetizing target for pirates. As a soldier who respected his weapons, the maintenance of the thing offended his sensibilities. He’d covered his seat with a couple of handkerchiefs before sitting on it.

“Did you know about the trafficking before we got there?” asked Aeren, softly.

“I wasn’t sure,” said Kovar. “I found coded references in that paperwork. Repeat payouts to a low rent dealership, looked like funny business to me,” he said, echoing the dealer’s phrase. “I sometimes use the place to slip in and out of the city unnoticed. That’s probably how Acteon learned of it, from my accounts. That dealer’s a loquacious fellow, very forthcoming with information, isn’t he?”

“How many children moved through there?” asked Aeren. His voice was little more then a whisper.

“No idea,” said Kovar. “The crèche would have records of them being checked in and out of their facility, but if I request them, the wrong person might figure out we’re on to something and I don’t want to risk losing a lead or having someone delete the data before we can seize it. So far, I’ve found 14 rentals. All before Lord Acteon dropped dead, thanks to your efforts. None since.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Aeren’s voice was bitter.

Kovar sighed. “Because I wasn’t sure you could control your emotions,” said Kovar. His squire’s eyes were fixed on the mountains before him. “You can turn off your enhancer now,” said Kovar.

Startled, Aeren, who had forgotten it was still on, touched the control panel at his wrist, and his image shimmered, true appearance returned. “I’m given to understand you made me very unattractive,” he said with a touch of asperity.

Kovar barked a laugh. “You have the wounded air of someone who thinks it is very difficult to be beautiful. Now you know the easy life without the burden of a pretty face.”

Aeren rolled his eyes. “You didn’t jump forward to defend Saveris’s virtue from that lecher, I noted.”

Kovar swiveled on Aeren with a look that plainly indicated that he didn’t believe the boy could be quite that stupid. “If I want to get information out of him, alienating him isn’t the way to do it, Aeren. Saveris is a strapping fellow. He can withstand the lustful gaze of admirers and their crude adulation. He has plenty of experience with that sort of thing. But if you are worried I didn’t rush forward to defend you –“

“I implied no such thing.”

“Of course you didn’t. But know that while many admire you in court, those that have seen you in action, that is - and I must say, that was an outstanding performance - many more are angry with you for taking Saveris’s place in my affections, and would probably like to see you lose a limb…or most of your face.”

 Aeren hesitated, then said, “I don’t imagine they’re very happy with you either.”

“They’re not,” said Kovar. “Saveris and I have been lovers longer than most of my people have been alive. Our devotion is a constant, and this has been upsetting for them.”

“Your personal life ought to be your own business,” said Aeren, flatly.

Kovar cast Aeren a side-glance and said, “Nothing you do is your own business when you rule, Aeren. Every public action is a symbol. Few Ovanan ever fall in love. Not true, enduring love. There is the fondness that many mistake for love, an amity that endures but does not enflame. Others become ardent with a fire that burns until they are left with nothing but ash. But abiding love is rare. And the deep loneliness that comes with long lives and empty hearts is difficult to bear. It gives people hope to see Saveris and me together, to imagine that the long years of their lives will not be solitary ones.”

Aeren’s eyes were fixed on the snowy expanse before them. His hands clenched the helm, his knuckles white. He said carefully, “It’s not like companionship is hard to get on this planet,” in a voice that said mere companionship wasn’t what he was referring to.

Kovar raised a brow, and scrutinized Aeren’s face. It was uncharacteristically rigid, his lips set in a thin line, as if he was trying to force himself to believe what he said. “Erotic fulfillment and spiritual fulfillment are two different things, Aeren,” said Kovar. “Sex and love are two different things. One can have many bed partners and still be quite lonely.” Of all people, Aeren should know this, thought Kovar. But, he did not, of course. It would require self-reflection he was not ready for.

Aeren swallowed. “Why did you let Saveris leave you, then?”

Kovr smiled. “He didn’t leave me, Aeren. He took on a new position. We see each other. We meet. We make love.” He sighed. “I’m an ancient, Aeren. Saveris is still young. Our needs are not the same.”

“Can’t keep up with him?” asked Aeren, wickedly.

Kovar smiled indulgently, not offended by Aeren’s attempt at a barb. “If you like to think so. But an ancient’s body is not the same as yours. We go through periods of regeneration. Our passions wax and wane. If you ever live long enough, you’ll know.”

“I remember, you’d come to the Avatar’s palace, and go into Saveris’s room and not come out for a week,” said Aeren.

Kovar laughed. “You noticed!”

Aeren shrugged.  “Difficult not to.” He said as Kovar smirked. “Though I suppose it’s not as interesting to have you as an extended house guest who never leaves the bedroom as to witness whatever goes on at Festival. People spotting your boyfriend walking around naked enough to take measure of the size of his – “

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” said Kovar, briskly. “No one who goes to Festival speaks of Festival. If his measure were as claimed, even I’d have trouble accommodating him,” said Kovar, flatly. Aeren raised a brow at the declaration. “That man,” Kovar remarked with distaste, indicating with a dismissive wave of his hand the dealer they’d left behind, “had a dishonorable military discharge and probably hasn’t been to Festival in his entire life.”

“Everyone doesn’t get to go?” asked Aeren.

“If everyone did, the nation would collapse for a few weeks a year,” replied Kovar.

Aeren hesitated and then said, “Do I get to go?”

Kovar rolled his eyes. “By the God, Aeren, you’re getting rather ahead of yourself. You’ve been House Teramis for less than a week and already you want to go to Festival. Frankly, I don’t think you’re the sort for it, they’d eat you alive.”

Aeren frowned. “What the hell goes on at this Festival, anyway?”

“Why don’t you keep an eye on your course?” said Kovar.

“I think I could handle it,” insisted Aeren, petulantly.

“May I remind you,” said Kovar, “you had difficulty with the emotional strain of merely being in a Teramis gymnasium, to say nothing of your reaction to the bathing facility. Now, what is that little light blinking on your console, which you could see right now if you were paying attention?”

Aeren leaned over, checking data. He tapped at a button. “Shit. Storm coming.”

Kovar grunted. “Storms are always coming on Ovanan.”

“Storm coming and here we are miles from our destination with night about to fall, and in case you didn’t notice, My Prince, this grid,” Aeren indicated a portion of the console, “is lit up like a party. Someone has booby trapped this entire valley. The valley that leads to my mine. One of my mines, anyway. The Avatar’s mine now, I guess.”

“Friends of yours?” asked Kovar, archly.

Aeren looked pained. “They know I pass through here.” He frowned. “I’ve already paid them for safe passage, the backstabbers.”

“You’re the consort of the Prince of Teramis now. They’ll want you for ransom.” He sniffed. “I have deeper pockets than the Avatar does.”

Aeren grimaced. “I suppose. Hadn’t thought of that until now. Damn.”

“This territory,” said Kovar, “is under my protection. I can send troops to sweep the area.”

“No!” cried Aeren. “I don’t want anyone coming near my mine.”

“The Avatar’s mine.”

“Oh piss off! Why don’t you just send up a flare, or post a big lighted sign, ‘Aeren’s secret stash is here!’”

“It seems your smuggler friends already know about your secret stash, Aeren. What more damage can be done by my soldiers?”

Aeren sighed. “They don’t know where my mine is. Not for sure. They just know I pass through this valley. I’m not the only person who uses this trail, Kovar.” He tapped the console. “Besides, smugglers know better than to loot the mine without me. Whenever they hit me up for protection money, it’s always after I’ve got a nice haul. There’s a reason only crystalcutters go into mines, Kovar. Looters ruin the resonance of the stones.”

Kovar knew little of crystalcutters and their arcane ways, but their ability to locate and collect talismans possessing extraordinary power was unmatched. “Maybe they have another crystalcutter at their command,” suggested Kovar.

Aeren blanched. “No one as good as me! They’d better not touch my mountain!” He squirmed in his seat. “The stones wouldn’t like it,” he added enigmatically.

Kovar did not know how to follow up the last comment, so ignored it with a pragmatic, “That being the case, then how do you suggest we get to your mine from here, Aeren?”

“My own skiff can bypass most Teramis scans, but you confiscated it, so here we are stuck in this hunk of junk.” Aeren kicked the dashboard petulantly.

“Rather defeats the purpose of getting out of the city unnoticed if we fly your personal skiff out my front door,” said Kovar.

“I know, I know,” growled Aeren, in a tone that would do credit to any disgruntled soldier, thought Kovar. “Hm. I’m scanning the valley for warm bodies, but no one’s out there. They’ve probably set snares at multiple locations, but don’t have enough people to man them. Smugglers could be anywhere. They’ve always got the mountains primed for ambush, looking for easy prey. They take down a flier or a skiff, hold you until someone pays ransom, or they just take your loot. Body heat won’t trigger the traps otherwise they’d be set off every time some beast walks by and takes a piss. You can usually bypass the snares on foot. Which is what we’ll do.”

Aeren’s assurance and escalating command of their mission pleased Kovar. He was happy to observe his young squire in his true element. He’d flown the skiff under his own power, eschewing the autopilot and proved a steady, calm hand. There was nothing of the brazen, manipulative sensuality Aeren employed at court, or the emotional fragility he’d shown after coming to Teramis.

“Thing is,” said Aeren as he guided the ship to a nearby ledge, “they assume the mine entrance is in the side of the mountain. This valley is actually an old kimberlite pipe, abandoned for centuries, since the Great Cold came. The mine is in the center of the valley. Those mountain caves are distractions, they’ll take you in so far, and then it’s a dead end every time. The real mine system goes deep, and you have to know what you are doing in there. It’s very dangerous. No one but a crystalcutter ever gets very far.” He turned to Kovar. “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe with me.” Kovar raised a brow, but said nothing. “Just follow me and do as I say.”

How amusingly forceful, thought Kovar.

Aeren steered the skiff to a narrow outcrop at the edge of the valley, some 700 feet from the snowy floor. There was barely enough room for the skiff, and little room to accommodate the men as they exited the small vehicle with their heavy packs and snow gear, their heads completely covered by helmets and parka hoods.

“How did you know about the mine?” asked Kovar, looking to the valley, a deep, slick bowl of ice and snow.

“Takes a long time to scout a stash,” said Aeren. “This was once a conventional mine, abandoned after it petered out. But I could sense the resonance when I passed through here. I followed the call.” He snapped on his skies, strapping them to his feet firmly. He took two small rods out of his pocket. With a snap of his wrist, they expanded into ski poles. “Another crystalcutter was already working the area. Illegally. I didn’t care. I was lucky she took me on.”

She, wondered Kovar. He couldn’t imagine a woman saying no to Aeren. He couldn’t imagine many men saying no, either.

“Our enhancers should shield us from any cameras these snares have going, but they’ll spot the heat signature of our equipment,” said Kovar.

“I just need to get close enough to disrupt one of them,” said Aeren. “They’re linked together, like a net. The disruption should spread from one snare to another.”

“And when they know their system has gone down, they’ll come running,” said Kovar.

Aeren grinned. “Then they’d better do it in the next few minutes, because that storm is almost here. He gestured to the mountain ridge, where an ominous, deep grey bank of clouds roiled toward them. “By the time they get here, that storm will be here, and we’ll be lost in it.”

“Lost,” repeated Kovar.

Aeren smiled broadly. “I never get lost. I don’t have to be able to see. I follow the resonance of the stones.”

Kovar strapped on his skies as well, expanding his poles, then tapping them tentatively into the snow, testing the feel. The cliff edge was an icy near 90-degree slope. He peered over the edge, then looked at Aeren, who was grinning at him through his mask, his expression one of challenge and delight.


“Ready,” said Kovar.

Aeren plunged over the side of the cliff.

Date: 2016-12-20 08:48 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The Prince does SO "not like it" that now he knows, heads may roll when he gets back to camp. WHADDA MAN!!!! ;-D

Date: 2016-12-20 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Kovar is strict and mighty.


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