In a land where magic is commonplace, Prince Llyskel has none. He can’t command spells, he has never been taught to fight, and as the fifth son of the King, he will never rule. Everyone believes he’s a weakling, most of all himself.
Powerlessness is Llyskel’s problem—and his pleasure. In his secret fantasies, the prince dreams of nothing more than finding himself helpless at another man’s hands… particularly the hands of Captain Ariv of the Guards.
Then Ariv makes Llyskel’s dream a reality, and as the powerless prince surrenders to the soldier’s desire, he finds his own true strength at last. But a web of royal politics is closing around Llyskel, threatening to tear him from his lover, and it will take all his newfound courage to escape…
It started with a line, just one line. Before long, the line became a brushstroke, a smear, a shape. Once I started with that single line, I could not stop. I needed to capture every detail, every hint of movement—from the biggest tree to the tiniest flower, to the way the leaves shuddered in the wind—every glimmer and shadow. Whether brush or pencil, canvas or pad, I had to keep painting until that first line had become a finished work, no matter how long it would take.
Which was how I found myself standing at the edge of the waterfall in the fast–fading sunlight.
The bells announcing the end of the midday break had not yet stopped ringing when I arrived at my favourite spot some hours ago. The rays of sun hit the waterfall at just the right angle, creating a beautiful play of shadows as the water crashed into the shaded fen, spraying drops of light everywhere. I spent hours trying to recreate those shadows, the sparkling water, and the way it all moved. The changing light made it difficult, but that first image was so clear in my mind that I hardly had to look up from my work. Surrounded by the thundering sounds of the waterfall and the smells of fresh water, tangy hindra bushes, and sweet yellow nara flowers, I worked until I had put the last bit of shade in, and my painting was done.
I should have gone home then, but I had barely wrapped the painting when the water nymphs came out to play. They must have known I was there, but they splashed around as if I wasn’t, their lithe figures almost floating on the surface. I had never seen them so joyous, and I couldn’t resist grabbing a new canvas to paint them, losing track of time in the process.
With one last look at the water nymphs, I hoisted my bags onto my shoulders and made my way down the path leading to the castle grounds. I would have to hurry. It would be dark soon, and Father would be furious if he found out I had sneaked off without my guard. Again.
He had warned me over and over not to stray too far and to always take Neia with me. But, painting with someone constantly watching me wasn’t easy. Neia tried to keep her distance, but I still felt her eyes on me all the time. I itched to be alone. Not alone in my room. No, alone out here, painting without being disturbed or being told when to go home.
I had tricked Neia into believing I would be in town all day with Endyrr, one of my brothers, visiting his lover, Kalnor. Endyrr and Kalnor would believe I had been at the castle since midday, because they had accompanied me back to the outer gardens then. It had been easy to grab my leather painting bags from their hiding place in the hedge, and walk out again after my companions had disappeared from view. With no one working in the gardens around midday, there had been no danger of being seen.
My crunching steps sounded loud in the otherwise quiet forest; I could barely hear the waterfall over their noise. I kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, avoiding thorns and poison creepers as best as I could, and stepping over any stumps and branches in my way. I should have taken the path: it was wider and there were fewer obstacles to trip over in this fading light. But this way I would reach the castle grounds sooner, and hopefully before anyone realised I wasn’t where they thought I was.
Leaves rustled behind me, and I froze. I hoped it was one of the castle’s cats out hunting and not a boar smelling dinner, but I still changed my grip on the bag holding my paints and palette. It was heavy enough to hit a boar with, surely. Not that I thought of doing so—I had been taught to be as still as possible when the boars were around—but if it moved in on me, I would have to fight. I had no hope of outrunning one.
A twig snapped, in front of me this time, and I closed my eyes.
I sighed as I recognised Captain Ariv’s deep, gravelly voice, torn between relief at having one of Father’s men save me from a boar, and annoyance at being caught off grounds.
Something shiny caught my eye, but before I could react to it, I heard the familiar zing of a shooter, and whatever was behind me dropped with a low–pitched whine. The ground trembled beneath my feet, but when I looked back, I saw nothing. The beast was probably hidden by the hindra bushes.
“Come. That boar’ll stay down long enough for us to get out of here.”
I faced the captain, only to discover his shooter aimed at me. No, not at me, at the boar, but that didn’t matter. The shooter was right in my line of sight, the way it always happened in my fantasies. The copper shooter glinted in the barest hint of light, and I shivered as I caught a whiff of lingering magic amongst the tangy smell of the hindra bushes.
The hand holding the shooter was large and strong, a perfect fit around the shooter’s handle. I was painfully aware of the captain’s presence, and I swallowed the moan threatening to escape as I resisted the urge to adjust my trousers, covered by my, thankfully, loose–fitting tunic. Instead, I tried to take deep breaths that kept ending in gasps and did nothing to stop my body responding as if to a lover’s touch. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. How I longed to feel the effects of a stunning spell, wanted that strong hand to tense around the handle, to…
I bit my lip to keep from making a sound and moved my bags in front of me, hoping Captain Ariv hadn’t noticed my reaction. I needed to look away, needed to walk on, but I couldn’t make myself. I was frozen. Again. Only this time it had nothing to do with fear.
When Captain Ariv finally lowered his shooter, my head bowed with it, my eyes following its descent until it disappeared behind his back. I sighed.
“Your Highness? What are you doing out here?”
I forced myself to look up at him, showed him my bags, and aimed for a smile.
Captain Ariv frowned. “You’re not supposed to—”
“Stray off the grounds on my own. I know,” I interrupted him, ignoring the slight wobble in my voice. “I lost track of time.”
Ouch. There was that. The story of my life. The fifth son of the king of Eizyrr, the powerless one who needed constant supervision, the one who could never fight for his kingdom. No doubt I’d be the talk of the soldiers tomorrow. “Found wandering outside the castle grounds again,” they’d say, “on his own, without his guard, and retrieved like a stubborn little puppy.” I barely kept from balling my fists around the straps of my bags. I wasn’t a stripling any more. “D’you think you can take me to my rooms, Captain?” I said as calmly as I could manage.
For a moment he just stared at me, eyes narrowed, as if trying to see into me. Then he grinned, a wide grin that made me wonder if he was up to something.
“Of course, Your Highness. I take it you don’t want the king to know?”
I doubted that was possible, but I nodded anyway.
“Well, then, Your Highness. Let me carry that for you, and I’ll sneak you past the guards.”
I almost refused, but if he wanted to carry my bags for me, so be it. He seemed surprised at their weight as he took them, yet hefted them both onto one shoulder without effort and turned around, clearly expecting me to follow him. Was he really going to help me get past the guards? Probably not, but it was nice to think he was.
I looked behind me and thought of the water nymphs. I hoped I wouldn’t be grounded for long.
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WARNING: includes light BDSM in the form of bondage and an alternative form of gun-kink.
Blaine D. Arden is a purple-haired, forty-something author of gay & trans* romance mixed with fantasy, mystery, and magic who sings her way through life in platform boots.