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STORY NOTES: Anonymous Avatar has sent extensive edits of previous chapters which fix continuity errors and also change Earth time to Ovanan time. An Ovanan year is 14 years, for example. Also, chapter headings will be revised. I'll be loading them later this week. I'd love to load everything in one clean masterpost, but there's a character limit on what livejournal will let me load here.

Title -- "Love and Loyalty: Aeren" Book Two Chapter 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

Aeren was escorted to the gymnasium flanked by enormous Shields. Immaculate boots beat a rhythm on the polished floors of the halls, a rhythm his much shorter stride and uncertain step disrupted. He was unbound, but did not bother to try to fight his captors. He knew he’d lose.

He’d been scrubbed and fitted into a young cadet’s uniform, clean, and black and simple, covering him from his throat to his wrists, from slim breeches to shining black boots. There had not been time to tailor the fit. His hair was tightly bound in a simple, hastily constructed queue that doubled his hair on itself and halved the length, wrapped in bands that wound the gleaming mass into a club that swayed against his back as he walked. The psi-blocks were visible at his temples, the skin an angry red where they pierced his flesh.

The gymnasium was the center of Teramis physical culture and the Prince was present to take exercise morning and evening in the facilities reserved for his personal use and that of his close staff. On this morning as Aeren arrived, a small, slender figure among mighty men any one of whom could kill him with a glancing blow, the Prince was the center of attention, surrounded by courtiers who watched as he and an opponent fought with sabers drawn. Naked to the waist, both men had no armor or padding for protection, wearing only plain, fitted grey breeches and gleaming black boots as they battled. They had slashes of red on face and body, shedding blood in rivulets down their pale skin. Kovar had a long cut on his face. It dripped red trails down his throat.

Kovar saw out of the corner of his eye that missed nothing, the arrival of his ward. Aeren was shockingly pale, his eyes black from the beating Kovar had given him, lip split and swollen. He looked very vulnerable among the guards in his plain cadet’s uniform.

Kovar’s opponent, taking advantage of Kovar’s momentary distraction, thrust viciously at the Prince, who dodged the sabre deftly and pinned the sword arm of his opponent under his forearm. The opponent whipped his long hair around Kovar’s, pulled him further forward, and attempted to lock Kovar’s arms in an embrace. He leaned into the pull and bit down on Kovar’s naked shoulder with voracious glee.

Aeren raised an eyebrow. They do fight to win on Teramis, his expression said.

Kovar responded with a head butt that cracked his opponent’s skull so loudly the onlookers gasped at the sound. He whipped his own long bound queue of hair, flipping it over him onto his opponent’s back. The metals clasps binding the black, gleaming stream raked naked flesh like hooks. Blood flew and the man screamed, loosed his grip, and flailed to protect his back instinctively. Kovar made short work of him then with a brutal kick to the groin, a few vicious blows with the pommel of his sword on the back of his neck and then the sabre came down across his throat, poised and ready for a fatal cut which would not come. The man’s eyes were closed as if expecting it, regardless.

An official called the match for Kovar, as if his opinion were necessary, and the courtiers applauded, beating their shields, swords, and other weapons together in admiration. Kovar’s defeated companion was unable to move. The Prince waited as a healer loped forward to examine the prostrate man. Satisfied with whatever result the healer came to, Kovar turned to Aeren.

“Did you sleep well?” Kovar inquired calmly.

Aeren gaped for a moment, then recovered. Half his attention was still on the man who was struggling to get up from the floor. “If you define sleeping well as being beaten, then tied spread eagled and naked to the posts of a bed, I suppose so,” he said.

“Some people enjoy that sort of thing. Shower?” Kovar turned and marched off to the baths, a small entourage in tow. Aeren was compelled to follow by his hulkish guards.

The defeated man, a healer trailing behind him, limped toward the showers as well. Aeren realized he’d seen him before. He was one of the guards who had escorted him into Kovar’s office the previous night. “That was some drubbing you gave him,” observed Aeren in sympathy. “What did he do to piss you off?”

Kovar glanced back. “He looked at your ass.”

Aeren started, then his eyes narrowed. “You looked at my ass as well,” he hissed.

“Not the way he did.”

They entered the wide bath entrance, lined with couches and comfortable accouterment for washing, relaxing, and grooming. Men and women were being massaged, oiled, and pampered by attendants. Aeren was unaccustomed to communal bathing, and had never seen people from Teramis in the nude, but for glimpses of Shields in the Avatar’s House, and a few tentative gropes in the dark with a couple of guards who fancied him. Their robust physiognomy, and powerful manner was overwhelming, intoxicating.

Aeren recoiled from them, as most androgynes did. It was one thing to look at projections of them as Aeren had been wont to do as a young boy, and to pleasure himself while satisfying that curiosity, but it was another thing to experience the heat and presence of so many mighty beings in person. Most Ovanan had completely hairless bodies but for their eyelashes, brows and the crowns of their heads, long hair being one of Ovanan’s status symbols; but some of the Teramis men had small thatches of it growing under their arms and at their groins. Aeren had never seen this on people from his homeworld. It made the genitals of the hirsute men protuberant. Aeren realized he was staring. His delicate complexion flushed pink without a thick mask of makeup to cover it. He looked away, quickly. The smell of sweat, and body musk, combined with scented oil, soap and steam made his head spin.

Kovar gestured to an unoccupied couch. “Care for a seat?”

Aeren’s face went from pink to red. “I prefer to stand,” he snarled. Kovar suppressed a smile as Aeren tried to control his uncomfortable shifting from foot to foot, his buttocks still sore from the whipping Kovar had given him the night before.

Kovar chose a cushioned chaise for himself that had been left vacant in anticipation of his needs. Healers rushed forward to deal with the cuts on his face and body, and the ugly bite on his shoulder, which was seeping blood. A masseuse rubbed his broad back, kneading it deeply. His valet, always in discreet attendance, knelt to remove his boots. Kovar’s private healer, also always in attendance when the Prince went to gymnasium, placed his fingers against Kovar’s cheek, and the cut gently sealed leaving a light pink mark that would be gone within hours. The healer carefully wiped blood away, then moved on to other scrapes and bruises, as another healer concentrated on sore muscles. He knelt beside Kovar’s valet and placed his hand against Kovar’s inner thigh, running it upward toward a strained groin muscle.

Aeren looked away quickly, but found he could not alight his eyes on any subject that did not make him stir uncomfortably. Women walked by, naked and oiled and powerfully built, taller and stronger than he was, their breasts small and firm. They smiled secret smiles at him, whispered as they went. One of the women, Aeren realized, had been a guard who had kept watch over him while he was tied naked to his bed. He’d mistaken her for a man. His face grew hot with humiliation.

A man with extraordinarily broad shoulders and massive biceps sat on a bench and groaned in pleasure as a woman rubbed liniment onto his back. Small groups of companions in arms strolled naked into the open doors of the bathing rooms, showers steaming, rising mist veiling them as they scraped off oil and rubbed soapy washcloths, scrubbing one another fastidiously.

The heady sight made Aeren’s heart race, and he turned his eyes hastily back to Kovar who rose from the chaise and whispered something to his private healer. The healer nodded and walked toward Aeren.

Aeren flinched as the healer raised his hand. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “I’m just going to take care of this.” He waved to indicate Aeren’s face, the blackened eyes and busted, swollen lip. Aeren stood stiffly as the healer did his work, feeling the warm sensation of the man’s power spread, the cracked skin on his face close and seal itself.

“The discoloration will take a little more time to fade completely. Don’t get into any fights today. Your nose will need a few more hours to fully heal,” he said as he ran his hands from Aeren’s face to his neck, then his chest, pausing a moment to tend bruises here and there. “You wouldn’t want to damage that pretty face beyond repair.”

Aeren glared.

The healer was unmoved by Aeren’s disapproval. He ran his hands up Aeren’s face again to touch the psionic inhibitors clamped into his flesh. “I can’t remove these. They hurt you.” It was not a question.

“Yes,” said Aeren, quietly.

The healer looked troubled, then turned to the Prince who was enjoying his shoulder massage. “He has a metal allergy,” said the healer. “I can relieve this pain now, but if the inhibitors remain, I’ll have to attend him.” Kovar said nothing, but the slightest shake of his head told the healer all he needed to know. The psi-blocks would remain.

The healer clicked his tongue ever so lightly then his hands began to roam again. He slowly made his way to Aeren’s back, down his spine, until his hands rested on Aeren’s backside. He flinched away from the healer’s touch. “I wasn’t raped,” he declared, acidly.

The room heard the declaration, and went silent.

“I didn’t think you were,” said the healer, who paused as well, glancing over Aeren’s shoulder to Kovar, who was looking in their direction with a cool expression, as almost everyone in the room looked back at him in anticipation of a reaction that did not come. The healer nodded, a silent message received, then returned to his work on Aeren’s sore bottom, gently placing his hands against the bruised flesh, sending healing energy into the boy’s body. Aeren looked fixedly in front of him, trying to think of nothing and no one as he was touched gently and purposefully while everyone in the room watched. He could not suppress a gasp as he was relieved of the pain of the night’s beating.

The healer then took Aeren’s hands, soothing the wrists where Aeren had pulled against his bonds, then moved down Aeren’s legs to touch his ankles gently, where they had also been bound. His work done, he rose, made a small bow then returned to his master, the Prince, who had been speaking quietly with his attendants. Sound began to return to the room as all went back to their activities, tension passed.

Kovar nodded to his healers, who turned their attention to others. Kovar’s valet helped him remove his pants and smallclothes, carefully folding the garments as each was peeled away from Kovar’s powerful body. Another attendant placed them on a tray and carried them away. Aeren looked at the Prince, his body as hairless as his own, but generously endowed, as most of the Teramis men were. Aeren’s eyes once again darted about for a view somewhere in the room that would not cause him deep discomfort.

Kovar’s valet unbound his hair from its complicated braids and bonds, flecked with blood from where he’d raked it across his guard in combat, freeing it to flow in a long, black trail several feet across the floor. It looked as dark as the cold depths of space. Another servant, wearing only a loincloth, lifted it from the floor to carry it as Kovar strode to the showers.

“Will you bathe?” asked Kovar over his shoulder. Aeren could see the naked man in the corner of his vision, and desperately wished he could not.

“No. I was bathed by your soldiers before I was brought to see you this morning,” said Aeren, in clipped tones.

“Of course,” said Kovar calmly. “Why don’t you have a seat, now that you can. I’ll be out in a moment.”

Aeren pressed his lips tightly together, sealing in a retort. The Prince, his hair carefully carried behind him, stepped into the mists of the showers. An attendant scrubbed him, and another did service to the gleaming mass of hair, longer than anyone else’s in the room as suited his position as Prince.

Aeren’s eyes moved nervously about, then he sighed resignedly, and took a seat on a nearby cushioned chair, gingerly placing himself to test his discomfort level, and letting out a sigh of relief when he encountered none. He clasped his hands together, his eyes downward, determinedly avoiding the sight of anything but the beautifully crafted marquetry on the stone floor, which, like all things on Teramis, shone with meticulous care. He could hear the idle chatter of the men and women around him, who made no mention of the young man in their midst who clearly did not belong there, though they glanced in his direction often enough, He could imagine that their telepathic communications about him carried all the gossip about his humiliating arrival and the beating he’d gotten besides.

Kovar emerged from the shower, men and women parting to make way for him. There were large towels at the ready, ointments and unguents for his starlight pale skin, treatments for his glorious hair. The morning toilette was a complicated matter, and the Prince patiently resigned himself to it, sitting and speaking quietly with his courtiers about daily inconsequentials. A heat wand smoothed the long train of his black locks, and steam hissed off the mass as it passed over. His feet were massaged before being put into embroidered stockings that fitted past his knees. He rose as his smallclothes were slipped onto his legs, drawn up his long thighs. He drew on his pants himself, deep burgundy velvet, with silver piping and embroidery, silver to show his alliance with the Avatar’s House. Boots came after, pristine and black and shining, to his thighs. He sat again for his shirt, crisp and white, elaborately embroidered with almost invisible tracings of silver thread.

His valet took upon herself the task of dressing Kovar’s hair, which had to be braided and bound to indicate his status, without being a burden to free movement. The braids were folded, as Aeren’s were, to halve the length, then wound in thick ribbons, studded with garnets, and clipped to hold the mass so that it rested in a heavy club at his upper thigh. Unlike most Ovanan, Kovar’s hair sported a thick fringe, usually a sign of mourning. Aeren had never known Kovar to be without it. The valet carefully brushed it, only to find her handiwork mussed by Kovar’s casual flitting through it with his fingers.

The Prince rose again, accepting a beautiful white coat with deep red velvet accents and cuffs, again decorated with silver embroidery. Aeren was finally looking up to see the activity, after the 20 minutes of Kovar’s toilette had gotten the better of his curiosity. Silver had a double meaning for a warrior like Kovar, as it was not only the sign of the Avatar’s House, it was the color of death. Amongst most Ovanan, it was considered ostentatious to wear it in public, but he’d rarely known Kovar not to wear it. In the short time he’d been here, he realized many of Teramis wore the silver, though whether it was a nod to their profession as soldiers and bringers of death or a sign of religious devotion, he could not say.

With a final flourish, a servant holding a tray presented Kovar a pair of exquisitely crafted silver gloves, which he took in hand, but did not draw upon his fingers. Kovar strode toward Aeren, towering over the seated boy, his princely figure as pristine as a sculpture, the red, silver, white and black form icy and blazing at once. Aeren in his simple, ill-fitting cadet’s uniform, his face no longer swollen but still yellowed and bruised from the beating he’d taken, his hair untidily bound, the abundant curls freeing themselves from their confinement in frizzy tendrils, had never felt so small and inadequate in his life. He surmised this was Kovar’s purpose in bringing him here: to display his power, his prestige, and the reverence in which his people held him, while making him as uncomfortable as if he’d been the unwanted guest at an orgy. Aeren hated him for it, as if his hate didn’t run deeply enough already.

“Come” said Kovar, and turned crisply on his heel, his attendants following in a small swarm.

Aeren considered resisting the silent command to follow, but his elbow was gently and firmly grasped by one of the guards flanking him, and once again he realized it would be futile to resist. His mind whirled with plans for defiance, but he could fix on nothing. His anger and his humiliation was as overwhelming and disabling as if he’d been placed in chains. Soon he would be alone in Kovar’s office, he told himself, after being dragged through this shameful performance, and he’d call Etan. Etan would send someone to fetch him. He would arrive home. They would argue. Then there would be angry sex. As if they ever had anything else. Then all would be forgiven.

The Prince stepped briskly past the guard whom he’d trounced earlier in the gymnasium. He’d been waiting by the door for Kovar to leave before he dared to enter the baths. The man made a deep, graceful prostration, which Kovar did not acknowledge. He remained in a bow, his face covered with his hands as Aeren walked by as well. Aeren supposed the man would never dare to look upon him again.

Aeren kept his eyes lowered too, watched as Kovar’s perfect black boots clacked across the floor, saw men and women pause in their routines as Kovar strode through the gymnasium’s main hall to make their obeisance. They did not pay tribute when Kovar was among them taking exercise and bathing, but clothed once again, his regal status returned to him, they acknowledged reverently.

A plain man with shoulder length black hair approached, less imposing than the mighty warriors around him, but still a hand span taller than Aeren. He was wearing a deep red and black long vest, Kovar’s colors, that reached the floor, over pants and shirt. A black badge on his breast marked him as a member of Kovar’s privy council. He carried a tablet and a harried expression, and bowed crisply as he approached, though he did not make formal prostration. “Your Highness,” he said, in a breathless voice. “I have the document you were waiting for. And Lord Aeren’s personal belongings have arrived. I’ve sent them to his room as you asked, and for the tailor to have his uniforms properly fitted.”

Aeren blinked.

“There is also the matter of sorting the belongings to cast out what you think would be inappropriate. I didn’t know if you wanted to make this review yourself, but I have an inventory here. I can do it if you prefer.”

“Thank you, Erastos.” Kovar took the tablet from the secretary.

“What is this” Aeren’s voice was almost a whisper. Kovar turned to him slowly, and around them the entire gymnasium went silent.

“As you were informed last evening, the Avatar has transferred his guardianship of you to me. You are my ward,” said Kovar calmly.

The air filters and the creak of abandoned fitness equipment were the only sounds in the hall. All eyes were upon them.

“You said…you said I was in protective custody.”

“Yes,” said Kovar. “My honored guest until further notice. And so you are as you are now my ward.”

Aeren felt as if he’d been hit in the face once again. His eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”

Kovar looked down at Aeren from his imposing height and said with icy calm, “I have in my hand the document from the Avatar returning you from his House to mine, where you were born. As a personal favor to the Divinity, I have chosen to take on the task of becoming your Shield Master, and have accepted the responsibility for training you in deportment and the courtly arts, in which you have never had proper instruction and are sorely lacking. As you informed me last night, your manners are terrible.”

Aeren’s face was deathly pale and he swayed on his feet. “No.”

“I cannot hear you.”

“He wouldn’t do that to me. He lov-“ Aeren choked on the word.

“I still cannot hear you.”

“You’re lying.”

A gasp was heard from several corners of the room.

Kovar’s hand lashed out and the perfect silver gloves whipped across Aeren’s face with blinding speed. Aeren cried out and stumbled against one of his guards, grabbing at the man for balance. The guard did not move to help him as Aeren righted himself. He touched his face gingerly and looked up at Kovar, unsuccessfully fighting back the tears that sprang to his eyes, yet another humiliation, and this one in full view of the court. It was a light blow that did not hurt nearly as much as the beating he had taken last night, but the shame made him burn. From a corner of the gym, Kovar’s personal healer stepped forward and then inched his way back, responding to a silent command.

Kovar’s expression did not change. He was as cool as he had been before he had smacked Aeren with the gloves that were still held lightly in his hand.

“You are my ward,” he said, quietly. “There will be times for candor between us. When we are alone. And I will welcome your honest words. You will never be closer to anyone in your life than you will be to me in the coming years,” At this he saw Aeren swallow uncomfortably. Kovar continued, “But you will never, ever show me disrespect of that kind again in public.”

Kovar did not raise his voice or establish what punishment might follow disobedience, but Aeren felt chilled to his bones.

The Prince raised the tablet he’d taken from Erastos, and tapped it lightly. A projection sprang up, of Kovar in his office, speaking to the Avatar on a transmission over the broad desk on which Aeren had received his whipping.

Etan was wearing evening dress, pale blue and white, with a small state crown on his silver head. He knew he was being recorded, and had made a hasty effort to appear regal, even though outside of ceremonial duties, he paid little attention to his appearance. He was plain to most Ovanan eyes, guant and sharp featured, but some considered him austerely handsome as Kovar did, as Aeren did also. Aeren’s heart leapt at the sight of his lord, his face sad and drawn, thin lips set in determination. Aeren’s heart broke at the sound of his words.

“He has shown nothing but contempt and disrespect for me and for my household. He has repeatedly disobeyed me and disgraced me. I am unable to control him,” he said in his deep, quiet voice.

“This is most distressing news, Divinity,” said Kovar, nodding in sympathy.

“I have indulged him. I have been weak,” Etan continued.

“Not weak, my Lord, generous,” soothed Kovar. “You are the Avatar, it is not your calling to raise and train recalcitrant children.”

“No,” said Etan quietly. “It is not.” He paused a moment and twisted his hands. “In my…in my loneliness, I hoped to raise a companion. But of course, it is the fate of an Avatar to be above mortals, and no one is more of a mortal than Aeren, a spoiled child. I cannot have him in my house. I fear he will corrupt my heir.”

Aeren gasped and choked back a sob at this. Kovar looked at him out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing.

“Of course, you must show him this. He will protest. But he is not born of my House. He was born of yours. That is where he belongs.”

Kovar nodded. “I will adopt him as my own. I have never taken a ward, and perhaps it is time for me to do so. The training I can provide as Shield Master is what his sort needs.” Kovar rapped his knuckles on the desk for emphasis.

Etan continued to twist his hands. “I’ve never been able to punish him as he deserves,” he said. “He trades on his beauty and his charms.” His voice trailed off to nothing at the last.

“Ah,” said Kovar. “I see.”

“I have seen too much,” said Etan, sadly. He sighed. “Take him away. I cannot bear him any longer.”

Kovar tapped the tablet and the image faded into nothing. The room remained silent, except for the futile attempts of Aeren to stifle his tears. He stood stiff and straight, trying desperately to grasp at something like dignity. He looked pitifully small and frail surrounded by stony Teramis warriors, yet they watched the boy’s heart break with pity. He was unable to hide the depth of his grief, with his psionic power hampered by the blocks he wore, their clamps burning angry red marks into his temples. Shield minds guarded at all times yet curious now, tested the truth of his emotions and felt sorrow, horror, and a sense of betrayal dancing at the edge of their senses as if looking for a place to hide.

“No…” Aeren shook his head. He was cold with shock. “This isn’t true. He needs me…Seren…No.”

“The formal documents of your transfer are here as well. Would you like to see them, too?” inquired Kovar, quietly.

Aeren turned his gaze slowly, hate radiating from his eyes to Kovar’s. “I want to see them in the presence of an attorney,” he demanded.

“Of course,” agreed Kovar.

“I am of legal age. He has no right to – to sell me off like this. He can’t-”

“He has every right,” countered Kovar. “You are of legal age, but you are still a ward, and you have never sought legal emancipation. You enjoyed the protections of the Avatar’s House that came with that status, a status that also makes you the legal equivalent of a minor. You never had any personal rights, and your protectorship can be transferred without your permission.”

Aeren gaped then closed his eyes, gathering himself. Kovar could imagine Aeren rummaging through the many scrapes and misadventures that had been forgiven or dismissed because he was the ward of the Avatar. Now he was paying the price for it all.

Then Aeren’s eyes flew open as if he’d been shot. “My assets -“ he started.

“Your belongings are in your room. Here is a list.”

“No,” Aeren insisted, “I mean my assets –“

“Property? Money?” Kovar looked at him coldly. “You have none. Your property is in a trust that belongs to your master, it remains with the Avatar’s House.”

Aeren gaped. ‘I can’t…no. You can’t… ”

“I will be happy to provide legal representation for you at my cost. You are my ward, and your welfare is my responsibility. You need not concern yourself with money. I will address all your needs.”

Aeren stood silent and open-mouthed, hot tears rolling down his cheeks. Then his eyes narrowed again, understanding flickering in the cobalt blue depths. “This is why you brought me here,” he said.

Kovar looked down at him, then casually around the room. “Here? To the gymnasium? I brought you here to accustom you to your new routine. You will join me every morning for physical training.” He looked at Aeren critically. “You are underdeveloped.”

“You brought me here so everyone could see this,” Aeren said acidly, gesturing toward the tablet with its humiliating message locked inside.

Kovar’s eye narrowed, and he smiled a dark smile. “Did I? You must be a mind reader. We’ll have to turn up the power on those psi-blocks.”

There was stifled laughter around them. Aeren steeled himself against it, his brain racing for a retort and finding none. Instead, he opted for what would really hurt.

“Of all people, I never dreamed that Etan would be in on it with the likes of you,” he said, cryptically. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he echoed Kovar’s words from the night before in an almost silent whisper. “Was that candor private enough for you?”

It was Kovar’s turn to freeze. The room went silent again. “Are we the victim of a vast conspiracy, little man?” Kovar snarled in an echoing whisper. “You must tell me all about it. In my office.”

Kovar turned on his perfect black heel and stalked out, the entourage and the guards with Aeren in tow following. The boy had trouble mastering his feet, and the guards had to steady him, though after what they’d witnessed, they were gentle in their handling. The beautiful boy’s humiliation and heartbreak moved all who witnessed it.

For Aeren, the final indignity would be to faint. It took all his strength not to do so.


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