The Asturian Patriot
It was a beautiful late summer day in Riva; the breeze was freshening, bringing with it the scents of the harbor and the sea; the salt tang of the air washed over the small island and caressed the slick dark rocks, the grassy hillocks, the verdant forests. Small white clouds scudded across a deep blue sky, echoing the sheep on the green hills, and gulls and starlings circled overhead. Summer was brief on that harsh island, and sunny days very rare even then, but this day was idyllic in its warmth and clemency, bringing to the citizens of Riva the scents of fresh grass, of early roses, of mown wheat. But the little man who stood in a dark corner of a secluded hallway in the Citadel was not affected by these things; he had placed a task before himself, one that constituted a great personal challenge, and though he was certainly the premier spy of Drasnia, a skilled negotiator and a clever businessman, relishing the confidences of kings, lords, and princes alike, he was not sanguine about his success in this particular venture, being fully cognizant of the difficulties he faced.
Footsteps clattered on the stone tile down the hall; he pulled himself further back into the darkness and wrapped his black cloak about him. The footsteps approached, a set of two; then mingled with the clack of boots on tile he heard voices, a mellifluous baritone and a light clear tenor mingled, and smiled; he knew those voices, and knew to whom they belonged. Fate had played into his hands once more, as he had known it would. Peering round the corner, being careful to keep his long pointed nose out of sight, he saw them – a knight of medium height, his dark curly hair pulled back with a leather thong; striding beside him was a tall slim redheaded youth in a bright green doublet. They were walking casually, as friends do; the knight with his hands clasped behind his back, the archer gesticulating and laughing as he spoke. Silk strained to listen, and finally as they approached caught the individual words of their conversation, and was able to discern their meaning.
"It doesn't matter, really; no matter what happens the Vordues will have to capitulate, and that's when we should make our move," said the youth in his blithe voice.
"I find myself in concurrence with thee, good Lelldorin, though the prospect of such potential fiscal loss doth harbor within my breast some small measure of apprehension." This was the knight speaking, as all Mimbrates spoke; Silk would have known him for what he was even had he not been well-acquainted with him already.
"Well, like Prince Kheldar is always telling us, you can't make money without spending some first. I admit I was a little leery of his plan at the beginning, but it makes so much sense the way he explained it, and the Tolnedrans are doing just what he predicted they would do. I can't help but to trust him."
Silk smiled at this, his face obscured in the shadows; it pleased him to be held in high regard. However when Mandorallen replied he held his breath; he was not certain what role he played in the knight's circle of acquaintance, and as the Mimbrate's opinion would drive his campaign he was anxious to know.
"Thy courage and loyalty do indeed behoove thee, my Asturian friend," said Mandorallen guardedly, and Silk's heart sank at his inflection. "However methinks I should fall derelict in my duty did I not speak to thee words of gentle caution regarding our beloved Prince Kheldar, who is indeed within our councils and a friend to all those who are also ours; it wouldst argue against such caution were it not for the undeniable fact that to him the garnering of wealth hath progressed from pastime to a game, in which all players are in his eyes opponents, and the amassing of monies the ultimate prize."
Silk raised his eyebrows at this. Apparently the knight wasn't as dense as he'd hoped.
"Oh, he's not that bad," scoffed Lelldorin offhandedly. The pair was passing Silk's hiding place at the time, and he drew further back into the shadows so they would not see him. They walked forward another ten yards and stopped before a large wooden door; Lelldorin fumbled in his doublet for a key, pulled it out, and as he fitted it into the lock added, "I know he likes to make money, but great Chaldan, Mandorallen! He's not so avaricious as that. Have a little faith in him."
"Thinkest thou so?" asked the knight dryly, smiling at his friend. "Well, perhaps thou art correct and mine own reasoning lieth in abeyance, Lelldorin. At least I hope that it is so, for though my interests in this venture do prick upon my very purse-strings, thine own venture far deeper, and I do fear me should aught go ill thou mayest find thyself bereft of goods and holdings both."
"I think you're being a little pessimistic, Mandorallen!" laughed Lelldorin, clapping the knight on one broad shoulder. "I trust Silk; he knows how to make money, and I don't think he'd ever cheat us. Don't worry; I'll keep an eye on him for you."
"Wilt thou indeed!" said the knight uncomfortably, as the Asturian opened his chamber door. "Well, my friend, since thou art so trusting of him, perhaps thine eye is not so clear as mine own; I shall keep my own council, which thou knowest well, but withdraw not mine own vigilance, an it please thee."
"Oh, very well, Mandorallen," said Lelldorin good-naturedly. "Have it your way. But mark my words, when this deal with the Vordues is through, I'll make you publicly admit I was right about him, or I'll – " He paused a moment, floundering for thought; then laughed and said, "I'll tell you this – if Silk proves false to us, I'll go before Korodullin's court and proclaim before all the assembly that Mimbrates are much, much smarter than Asturians and therefore more worthy of the crown lands. How's that?"
Mandorallen grinned, showing his white teeth, and clasped Lelldorin by the hand. "Almost do I desire Kheldar's mendacity, so alluring is thy promise! Yet such bold proclamations deserve fitting reply; shouldst Kheldar prove true I shall bend my knee before Queen Mayaserana as Duchess of Asturia, and not Queen of Arendia."
"Before the whole court?" asked Lelldorin eagerly, and Mandorallen laughed.
"Yes, my friend, before the entire court assembled at Mimbre shall I capitulate to thee. Are we come to an accord in this?"
"That'll be a first, won't it?" grinned Lelldorin as they shook hands. He laughed again and said, "Well, I'm going to look over those figures one last time, then maybe go out to hunt this afternoon. Barak said there are wild boar coming down from the forest, and he and Garion are going out with the huntsmen, so if all goes well we shall have fresh pork for dinner. Would you care to join us? We could do with your prowess at the spear, and your fearlessness, too."
Mandorallen's gaze flickered, and he glanced down at his feet, then up to Lelldorin's ingenuous face again. "Nay, I think not, good Lelldorin," he said, his voice roughening. "I have – made previous plans for this afternoon, the object of which shall neither be questioned nor gainsaid." Silk smirked at this; he knew the secret campaign the knight waged, and knew also where he would be spending his afternoon. "But I thank thee for thy generous invitation, and do promise you upon my word of honor that thy next request shall be acceded, and I shall do all within mine own strength to so succor thee in thy endeavors."
"All you had to do was say, 'No, thank you,' " said Lelldorin, grimacing. "See you at dinner."
"I bid thee good fortune in thy hunt, Lelldorin," said Mandorallen, turning to go.
"Thanks," grinned the Asturian, and shut the chamber door. Mandorallen sighed and walked back down the hallway to where Silk had secreted himself.
As he was passing the alcove, the thief cleared his throat and stepped further into the light. Startled, the Mimbrate stepped back, hand on his knife-haft; when he saw it was his old comrade-in-arms the wary look in his eyes deepened further, though he loosened his grip on his weapon somewhat.
"Good morning, Sir Mandorallen," said Silk with mocking politeness, giving him a graceful bow; as he rose his eyes lingered on the Mimbrate's thick muscular torso, raking the trim blue doublet with an eager gaze. "Lovely day for hunting, isn't it? A pity you have a prior commitment." He gave a musical laugh and polished one of his rings on his doublet.
It was amusing for him to see the knight's fists constrict, then slowly loosen as he forced himself to relax. "Good morrow, Prince Kheldar," he said, jaw clenched, and though he maintained his polite stance Silk could see his eyes were chary. "And how long, I pray thee, hast thou ensconced thyself here, where from thy secret lair no doubt thou couldst eavesdrop upon conversations meant not for thine ears?"
"If no one spied think what a dull world it would be!" said Silk airily, examining his fingernails. "Besides, to what else could I attribute my success?"
"Not integrity, to be certain," said the knight flatly. Silk laughed.
"Oh, Mandorallen, Mandorallen," he said, clasping the knight on the shoulder. He felt the ball of muscle tauten and knew the Mimbrate was flinching back from his touch. Still he kept his hand firmly gripping Mandorallen's shoulder, smiling unpleasantly up at the knight, reveling in the uneasy tension radiating from his companion. "Why don't you trust me? Aside from the fact I'm a notorious cheat and a thief, I mean."
"My trust in thee faded many years hence, Prince Kheldar," said the knight stiffly, reaching up to pull Silk's hand from his shoulder. But when he grasped the thief's fingers Silk turned his arm around quickly so that Mandorallen's hand was instead clutched in an iron grip, and Silk's chest pressed up against the larger man's. The knight's blue eyes widened in astonishment, and Silk grinned ferally up at him.
"Don't think I haven't figured out what you and Hettar are doing today," he whispered to the startled Mimbrate. He let his eyes wander down to Mandorallen's lips, full and pink in the suddenly pale face, and felt a surge of heat light up his groin. How would it feel, he wondered, to bury his hands in the thick black curls, kiss that unwilling mouth? He pressed closer, feeling the tight thick muscles through the fabric of their clothing, the curve of the pectoral and the hard flat stomach. He licked his lips and said in a low voice, "I know what you and the Horse Lord get up to in the baths beneath the Citadel – don't need oil when you have mineral water, do you?"
The knight's eyes overflowed with fear and anger mixed, and he wrenched away, trembling, face drained of color. Silk stepped back, cautious, still smiling, full of fiery lust. "I can just see you two going at it in those dark corners," he whispered, deliberately reaching down to the front of his trousers and fingering the stiffness there so that Mandorallen could see his reaction to their physical contact. "Sweat pouring down your faces, hot slippery limbs grappling in the steam, biting and kissing and groaning – " Mandorallen, after a last furious look, turned on his heel and started to stalk away, but Silk flitted out after him for one last jab: "Tell me, Mandorallen, does he squeal when you breach that beautiful ass with your long hard cock?"
He was prepared for the knight's enraged blow and dodged it, but in the midst of his self-congratulation missed the answering backhand that struck him across the temple. He spun and dropped to the stone floor, eyes wobbling, and felt strong hands grasp him by the front of his fine gray doublet, lifting and shaking him. He blinked rapidly, and the knight's livid face focused before him, blue eyes full of wrath and trepidation mixed; an unattractive combination on a normally attractive face.
"I do give thee this warning, Prince of Drasnia," said Mandorallen in a low voice, pulling Silk's face up to his own and glaring down into the ratlike eyes. "Shouldst I discover thee skulking about whilst I am about mine own business, I shall deliver unto thee such a blow with my fist that thou shalt defecate the very detritus of thy teeth for weeks to come."
The knight and the thief stared into each others' eyes a moment, the knight challenging, the thief provoking; there was a click as though a door were opening, and the Mimbrate looked around anxiously, released Silk and strode down the corridor, radiating resentment and animosity. The Drasnian leaned against the cold stone wall, fingering his temple, and watched him go, watched the broad shoulders surging beneath the blue cloth, the muscular arms outlined under the thin linen shirt, the lean hips bunching and swelling over stout legs. He smiled evilly.
"I absolutely must find a way to get my hands into those trousers," he murmured.
The door down the hall creaked open; Silk, mindful of his growing need, glanced quickly at Lelldorin's door and then away, pretending he hadn't heard it. Instead he moaned theatrically, rubbing the side of his head and leaning tragically against the wall.
"Prince Kheldar!" exclaimed the Asturian, rushing forward and taking Silk by the arm. "What is it? What happened to you?" He pushed the smaller man's fingers away from his temple and gasped. "You're bleeding!" he cried.
"It's . . . nothing . . . " groaned Silk feebly, feigning to stagger so he could lean his weight against the archer; to his gratification the lean body met and matched his weight, and Lelldorin's slim arms came around his chest to support him.
"It MUST be something," said Lelldorin stubbornly, cradling Silk against his chest and pushing the thief's hair back with gentle fingers. Unable to help himself Silk closed his eyes, relishing the feel of the archer's callused hands probing the lump. "You don't just end up with bumps like this by accident."
"I fell," said Silk weakly, sagging further against the young man's body. The curtain of auburn hair fell about his face and he inhaled deeply, reveling in the lightly masculine scent, feeling the Asturian's heart beating by his ear.
"YOU fell?" demanded Lelldorin disbelievingly. Silk smiled to himself; it was inconvenient sometimes trying to seduce someone who knew you so well.
"I … get weak sometimes … when I haven't eaten," he said breathily, leaning heavily against Lelldorin's chest and drawing a melodramatic hand across his forehead. "If you could … just get me … some wine … I would be so … so grateful."
"Of course," crooned Lelldorin in a soothing, cheerful voice usually reserved for the terminally ill. He slipped his arms around Kheldar's torso and half-carried, half-led him to his room. "I have a full decanter by the bed; you're welcome to anything I can do for you, your highness – anything at all."
"Thank you," sighed Silk weakly. He let Lelldorin lead him into the chambers, and when the young man kicked the door closed with his foot, his heart leaped at the loud BANG it made. But he moaned convincingly while the Asturian lay him down upon the large canopied bed, removed his boots, loosened his collar and went to the sideboard.
"The Rivans are very generous, hospitable people," Lelldorin was saying comfortingly, unstoppering the decanter and pouring out a goblet of pale yellow wine. "This wine they've given me is very good; I'm sure it'll have you feeling better in no time."
"Oh, thank you, Lelldorin," groaned Silk, waving one hand to him feebly. "I feel so dizzy … I'm so sorry … sure I'm being an inconvenience … "
"Not at all," said Lelldorin. He was standing by the window, and Silk could see the sunlight glinting off his rich red hair, etching the doublet he wore into a brilliant green; he could also see the long lean lines of his hips and legs in the thin leggings, and the thief's manhood stirred to greater sensation at the sight; it was all he could do to not reach one hand down to touch himself. He bit his lip, closed his eyes when Lelldorin turned from the pale late-morning light, and gave another histrionic moan. He heard the archer return to the bed, though he made but little noise in his soft shoes; he seemed to hesitate, then Silk heard him say deferentially, "Er … Prince Kheldar, do you think you can sit up? I'm not sure you can drink this when you're on your back."
"Oh," sighed Silk theatrically, "I apologize … poor Lelldorin … I'm so weak, I don't think I can sit up on my own … "
"I'm so, so sorry," said the Asturian contritely, setting the goblet down on a side table and bending over the thief. "I wasn't thinking; of course you're too weak to sit up. Here – let me help you."
Silk tried to keep his body as limp and unresponsive as possible, but it was extremely difficult, as Lelldorin had climbed beside him onto the bed, sat up so that his hip touched Silk's shoulder; and then putting his hands behind Silk's back he drew him up gently so that the Drasnian reclined upon Lelldorin's chest. But he murmured indistinctly, letting his arms remain flaccid and his body feign weakness, though one particularly rigid member mocked him with its inability to simulate infirmity, and he hoped Lelldorin wouldn't glance down and see the visual proof of his stimulation. But the archer was blissfully stupid; he cradled Silk gently in his slender arms, raised the goblet to the thief's lips, and said tenderly,
"Here you are now – drink slowly; I don't want you to get sick."
"Thank you," breathed Silk, cracking his eyes open just enough to see the goblet; he was more concerned with spilling the wine and ruining his doublet than with any other digestive repercussions. He could see Lelldorin's strong thin hand holding it, tilting it to his lips; could feel the archer's lean body beneath him, the thick silky hair tickling his cheek. He took a sip, swallowed, and leaned his head back against Lelldorin's collarbone, rolling his head dramatically so that his nose nuzzled the Asturian's throat. The skin was still smooth and smelled of soap and wood smoke. Silk, knowing Lelldorin couldn't see his face from that angle, allowed himself a peculiar smile – the young man was soft, untouched, untried; the archer was an innocent, still almost a boy, despite his wife and wild ways.
Silk very much looked forward to taking that from him. He was a thief, after all.
He sighed deeply, nestling comfortably against that lean strong body; unsuspectingly Lelldorin gave Silk's hair a couple of reassuring strokes, and brought the goblet to the Drasnian's lips again.
"Have some more," he said, his voice gentle. "It'll make you feel better."
Silk obligingly took another few sips, rolling the sweet cool wine on his tongue, his senses awakening with his quickening desire. The sun slanted across the floor, setting the dust motes alight; the corridor was silent without, the chamber silent within, save for the two men's breathing; the body beneath him was warm and yielding, and the stinging astringency of the wine tingled on his tongue. He hoped Lelldorin would mistake the thudding of his heart for a symptom of his malady; there was no chance he'd miss it, because the thief was certain his pulse was racing along like the hoofbeats of a galloping horse, and anyone within a ten-foot radius would hear it.
They lay like that for a while, Silk dragging out his alleged weakness with groans and feeble attempts to rise; Lelldorin, however, in his desire to maintain the thief's good health, restrained him against his chest firmly, insisting instead the Drasnian take a few more sips each time Silk half-heartedly tried to stand. After several minutes Silk smiled to himself – Lelldorin, either in boredom or thoughtlessness, was also drinking from the goblet; Silk thought of their lips touching the same surface of glass, and his heart lurched. Then he felt Lelldorin give a big sigh, not of tedium but of repose, and the whipcord body relaxed further into the thick feather pillows upon which it reclined.
Silk took quick stock of his pelvic region: tight, aching, hard as a rock. Time to fix this, but he would have to take care; Lelldorin may have been stupid, but he was also, like most of his Arendish compatriots, prudish and morally conservative, and possessed of very quick reflexes; and Silk had no desire to spend the remainder of his stay on Riva sporting any more bruises and lumps than absolutely necessary. After all, the sex would probably be very nice, but he did have his dignity and respectability to think of. He drew in a deep, languorous breath and stretched slowly, lethargically, making sure his hip turned in against Lelldorin's, acutely aware the entire time that their cocks were mere inches away, and if he just moved a little bit the archer would be only too cognizant of his attraction to the younger man.
"Are you feeling any better, Prince Kheldar?" asked Lelldorin solicitously. By happy chance, or rather the thief's deliberate planning, his mouth was right in Silk's ear, and his breath tickled against the stringy brown hair. Silk felt the frisson of anticipation run up his spine and prickle his skin, and he shivered involuntarily.
"Are you cold? I'm so sorry," said Lelldorin immediately, and wrapped his arms around Silk's chest, holding him close to warm him. "I had no idea. Wait just a minute; I'm sure my body heat will warm you up."
I'm sure it will, thought Silk, fighting down a mad urge to giggle. But he lay quietly in the Asturian's arms, heart hammering in his throat, turgid cock stiff and ready, until the pressure became too great to ignore, and he decided to act. He rolled in the archer's embrace, shivering, nuzzling his face into the long white throat, and then, when he was sure the peculiarity of man touching man had faded with the extended contact, he gave a satisfied sigh and draped one arm casually across Lelldorin's belly. He felt the Asturian stiffen at first, but as Silk did not move further the archer slowly relaxed.
Silk moved his face so that his lips would touch Lelldorin's skin when he spoke. "I'm so glad you're not like other Arends," he said, casting his voice low in a sleepy mumble. This, as he'd planned, procured a wry chuckle from his companion.
"Actually, everyone tells me I'm the archetypical Arend," said Lelldorin dryly. "Noble, brave, not very bright. I'm really not so different from my countrymen."
"Yes, you are," murmured Silk, moving his mouth so that it brushed the soft skin behind Lelldorin's ear. "Arend men don't let other men touch them. Very stiff and formal. Not like the Algars."
Lelldorin paused, thinking; it took him a moment, because that was not something he did with any sort of regularity. "Algar men touch each other like this a lot?" he asked curiously, tightening his grip so that Silk's hip pressed against his own.
"Oh, yes, all the time," sighed Silk, burrowing deeper into Lelldorin's embrace. "They're very affectionate, very casual – you know how nomads are." He took another deep breath, waited for the archer to speak.
"The only Algar I really know is Lord Hettar," said Lelldorin thoughtfully. "He didn't strike me as the demonstrative type."
"Oh, not in public," said Silk, his voice growing a little stronger. "They're private about it – what happens between two men is a personal, reserved thing. They don't even discuss it with each other, much less with those of other races. But they're very affectionate with each other – always touching, embracing, kissing . . . " He hesitated, letting this sink in, then added in a low voice, " . . . privately, behind closed doors."
He felt Lelldorin's head jerk up to look at the door, as though checking to see if it were closed, but to his gratification the archer didn't pull away. "Unfortunately, though," Silk continued, lifting a languid hand to play with a strand of the red-gold hair that fell across their chests, "the Algars and the Arends have never seen eye to eye about this sort of thing. A pity, too – makes things very tricky in Muros, when Algar and Arend try to do business." He paused, then added, "Of course, those are Mimbrate Arends, and I'm sure you don't really care about THEIR financial stability."
"What do you mean?" asked Lelldorin anxiously, rising almost predictably to the bait. "Financial stability? I thought the Mimbrates did very well at the cattle auctions in Muros."
"They'd like you to believe that, of course," said Silk off-handedly. His fingers had let the hair slip away, and were engaged in toying with the embroidered flowers on the Asturian's doublet. "But the truth of the matter is, Lelldorin, the Mimbrate Arends either ignore or belittle their Algar associates' desire for physical touch, and that makes the Algars resent them and drive the prices up. As a result, the poor Mimbrate merchants buying the cattle are paying two to three times what the stock is actually worth." He shook his head and gave a regretful-sounding noise. "If only they'd just relax and let the Algars show them what a little physical affection feels like – I'm sure the finances of the southern Arends would improve considerably. Why, even Mandorallen – " He cut himself off, and he felt to his gratification Lelldorin stiffen in alarm.
"Why, what about Mandorallen?" he cried. "He's not suffering, is he? Is he one of the Mimbrates being so rude to the poor Algars, and getting cheated like all the others? Kheldar, this is terrible!" Silk could hear the indignation quivering in the archer's voice, and he suppressed a smile, hiding his face in the Asturian's chest.
"I shouldn't have said anything," he said, forcing his voice into a mournful and contrite tone. "I always get this way when I have a dizzy spell – I talk too much. I'm sorry, Lelldorin – please forget I said anything about it."
"But I can't, now!" exclaimed Lelldorin passionately. "Mandorallen may be a Mimbrate, but he's my friend – and a fellow Arend, at that. The fortunes of my Asturian cousins are tied to the financial doings of the southern duchy; if the Mimbrates fall, the whole country will go up in ruins. We'll have the Tolnedrans swarming around us in a heartbeat!" His breathing was agitated, and Silk could hear the archer's heart thumping against his ear. He patted Lelldorin's chest soothingly, then switched to stroking him in soft circles across the stippled fabric of the doublet, between where he knew the Asturian's nipples must be.
"Hush, hush!" he said softly, and let his hand trail lightly further down to rest on Lelldorin's belly. "I know it's awful, but what can we do? I'm only an Alorn, after all, and the Mimbrates wouldn't listen to me. They probably wouldn't even listen to you, since you're the son of an Asturian noble. They are most likely completely ignorant of what they're doing to the Algars – and as time goes by, the Algars will withdraw from Muros, leaving it an empty city, and the southern duchies will go bankrupt." Lelldorin's breath hitched on an aggrieved sob, and Silk hid another smile. Really, the Arend was too stupid to have bought all of this. But now that he'd taken the bait, it was time to jerk the hook and reel him in. "The only way the Mimbrates can reverse this is to learn about pleasing their Algarian business partners, and I can't think of a single Mimbrate lord who'd be willing to listen to the likes of US."
"Mandorallen would," said Lelldorin impulsively. "He'd listen. He – he trusts me, and – I'm sure he trusts you, too, Kheldar."
Silk paused, pretending to think this over, even as his hand, feigning abstraction, traced circles lower and lower down Lelldorin's torso. "Well . . . perhaps," he said with affected reluctance, shifting his legs so that their thighs touched. "I suppose . . . Mandorallen being the 'mightiest knight on life,' and very well-respected in Korodullin's court, he just might be able to teach his fellow Mimbrates about the Algars' preferences."
"I'm sure he could!" said Lelldorin enthusiastically, warming to the subject with his usual fervor. "He could lead an absolute revolution in the customs of the knights of the south; he would instruct and train them in the proper Algarian etiquette, and if he ever ran across resistance he could convince them in tournaments and jousts – he's invincible, you know."
"He is, at that," admitted Silk, smirking into Lelldorin's neck. "Quite impermeable. That's the problem, though, Lelldorin."
"What do you mean?" asked Lelldorin anxiously.
"Well – Mandorallen is a splendid and influential knight, to be sure," admitted Silk, with just the correct lack of enthusiasm in his voice, "but he's rather stiff and over-bearing himself. One of the primary offenders, actually, from the Algar point of view. Really, now," he said, over Lelldorin's immediate protests, "can you imagine Mandorallen – the Baron of Mandor – lying down with me on this bed, his arms around me, letting me touch his chest? It's ridiculous, Lelldorin; he'd sooner cut off his arms."
"My poor Arendia is doomed, then," said Lelldorin, his voice choked with tears. "However can we persuade him to change his attitude? Muros will be bankrupt in no time! Kheldar, what can we do?"
Silk wasn't sure whether to feel insulted Lelldorin so quickly agreed Mandorallen would never recline with him on a bed, or pleased with the archer's immediate and unquestioning conviction in Silk's acumen, or amused he'd come so far so quickly; he settled on amusement, and shielding his glee, pretended to think the problem over seriously, all the while tracing and touching and pressing up against the young man beside him, until he felt Lelldorin quivering with suppressed excitement – whether from his touch, or his anxiety to help Mimbre, Silk didn't really care, so long as the final destination was Lelldorin's trousers. As for the Arend, Lelldorin was too obtuse to tell the difference, equating his mounting excitement with the news he'd just heard, and his eagerness to correct it. In fact when Silk pressed up against him Lelldorin inattentively answered his gesture, tightening his grip around Silk's chest and drawing him close. Silk took a deep breath, trying to quell any shuddering, and said with forced casualness:
"That's all very well, Lelldorin, to say we need to convince Mandorallen to look with different eyes at this kind of touching." He snuggled closer, and Lelldorin enthusiastically wriggled against him. Silk inhaled sharply, feeling the heat in his groin rise; he'd have to wrap this up quick or the point would be moot, and his trousers sticky on top of it. "You can't teach people something you don't know yourself. How can Mandorallen train his fellow Mimbrates to embrace and kiss and caress Algars when he doesn't know how to do it himself?"
"You could teach him, Kheldar," said Lelldorin confidently. "You seem to know so much about it. And you've been around Algars more than we have – they're Alorns too – I'm sure you're as close to being an expert as any Algar cattle-herder would be, and you're so clever – I'm sure you'd be a wonderful teacher."
Silk had to bite his lip at this. "Well, one has learned quite a bit from one's Algar cousins," he said modestly, voice warming; Lelldorin in his zeal had actually hooked one leg over Silk's, causing the older man's stomach to knot up. "But Lelldorin," he added seriously, "Mandorallen doesn't REALLY trust me. You know he doesn't." He sounded mournful and sad, and Lelldorin, gasping, pulled him even closer, threatening to rub his groin against Silk's own and ruin the seduction completely.
"Oh, that's true, I forgot!" he exclaimed impulsively, then gasped and said in a subdued voice, "I'm sorry – I shouldn't have said that. It slipped out of my mouth; I wasn't thinking. But he doesn't really mistrust you, Kheldar – only just doesn't trust you completely." He sighed, and Silk sighed, wishing he could grind his pelvis up against Lelldorin's hip and release some of his pressure; then with a gratifying leap Lelldorin said: "I could! He trusts me, and he'd know I was doing it for the good of the country – for Arendia. He knows I'm a patriot!"
"Well, true," conceded Silk coolly, "but what will you teach him?"
Lelldorin paused, flabbergasted; Silk lay one hand flat on the archer's stomach and rolled carefully onto his elbow, leaning over the young man's chest and looking down at him. Their faces were mere inches apart; in fact Silk's long nose was nearly touching Lelldorin's, and their bodies lay entwined beneath them. Lelldorin stared up at Silk, tears pricking his eyes, a look of frustration and helplessness on his face.
"I don't know," he admitted with terrible humility. "I don't know anything about it. I'm not clever – I couldn't teach him anything." One tear rolled down his face and disappeared into his hair, and Silk gently reached up to lay the tips of his fingers on Lelldorin's cheek.
"You have a certain aptitude," he said carefully, making sure his voice was dry and clinical. "Already you're better at this sort of thing than any Arend I've ever met – you're almost Algar in your instincts, you know." Lelldorin brightened at this, and Silk added sternly, "But that doesn't mean you know much about it, certainly not enough to teach Mandorallen the art of Algar intimacy. After all, you haven't got my deep experience in these matters."
He let his gaze drift from the young man's face, eyes wandering with seeming aimlessness around the room, while his fingers absently played with Lelldorin's cheek and hair. He waited, hoping that even Lelldorin wasn't THAT stupid.
Hope sprung eternal, and Silk was relieved when Lelldorin exclaimed, "You can teach me! Oh, please," he said supplicatingly, when Silk stared down at him with a look of mock astonishment on his face. "You have to. Please, Kheldar, you're Arendia's only hope. Help me – you know how much of a patriot I am, and that I'd do anything for my country. Please, Kheldar."
Silk regarded the archer carefully. The young man's eyes were alight, still shining with tears but also with hope; his fresh youthful face glowed with devotion and loyalty and patriotism and extremely limited intelligence. Better yet, his cheeks were flushed with excitement, his body quivered with anticipation, and the long lean warmth of him was vibrating with zeal; Silk was nearly undone by the sight, but gritted his teeth, forced himself to think about dead kittens until the moment passed, and instead twisted his face into a look of reluctant indecision until Lelldorin threw his arms eagerly around Silk's neck, pulled his face close, said fervently: "You must help. Please, Kheldar – Silk – " He said this shyly, as he had never used the prince's nickname before " – teach me this, so I can save my countrymen from ruin."
The Drasnian made a great show of averse capitulation, sighing resignedly and admitting, "Well . . . all right; I suppose I have to help, don't I?" He shook his head wryly and said, "This is what I get for letting my tongue run on! Now, Lelldorin," he said in a businesslike manner, "are you sure about this? Only a true patriot would be brave enough to venture into such uncharted territory, with a lone Alorn as a guide."
"I have full confidence in you," said Lelldorin stoutly. "And I'm not afraid. I want to learn."
"You mean now?" asked Silk, feigning surprise.
"Of course!" said Lelldorin eagerly. "Why not? Are you busy this morning?"