Being enslaved was better than dying but only barely. Kennet did what he had to in order to survive as a slave with the knowledge that freedom would risk being found by the people who drove him into slavery. Kennet saw no reason to do anything extra for the men who bought him. They didn’t care about him and he didn’t care about them.
That was true until the royal family of Penhale purchased Kennet guard Prince Didymos. Protecting Prince Didymos from the assassins seeking to kill him dragged Kennet into the world of national politics and onwards to face an enemy that threatened to destroy not just Kennet but the whole world.
Kennet didn’t want to deal with any of it, the assassins or the magic that lurked around him but if he wanted to survive, Kennet would have to not just face down the threats surrounding them but also track the assassins back to their shadowy leader.
What he found at the source of the chaos changed Kennet in ways he could never have anticipated, taking him in all new directions. Hopefully Kennet’s new skills would be enough to let him save the world, his lovers and himself.
Artifacts of Awareness
By Meyari McFarland
9: Talks and Kisses
“So um, what did Father want to talk to you about?” Prince Didymos asked after everyone had eaten and gone to their bedrooms to sleep.
Prince Didymos’ bleak little room was quiet. The light crystals were old ones, fading into darkness as their magical charge gave way. Sometime tomorrow or the next day Kennet would stand over the mage as he recharged them, making the man twitch nervously while Prince Didymos chattered at the man and tried to calm both of them down. But for tonight the room was dim and almost cozy despite the lack of furnishings.
Kennet stared at Prince Didymos, keeping his face as flat and still as he could. Prince Didymos blushed fiercely under the stare, no surprise. He always blushed when Kennet stared at him. Pretty soon he looked away and then squirmed like a small child who’d been caught stealing sweets. Despite his amusement at Prince Didymos’ inability to deal with being looked at, Kennet managed to hold the stare for long enough that Prince Didymos finally broke.
“I’m sorry but I thought it was a good idea!” Prince Didymos complained in a hurt tone of voice. “I mean, you’ll be free and have a place–”
“By your side,” Kennet interrupted.
A breeze came in the window, eased by the lack of curtains to ruffle Prince Didymos’ hair. Kennet straightened up a little as the air smoothed over his skin, cooling him for a moment before fading away. Prince Didymos licked his lips, fingers twitching at Kennet’s stare.
“Um, yeah,” Prince Didymos said much more nervously. His eyes flicked to Kennet and then away again even though Kennet had allowed is face to relax a bit. “Th-that was the thought. And um, power. Power is good.”
“Highness,” Kennet sighed while smiling and waving one hand at him to calm down, sit down, something besides fidgeting that way, “my big dream for after I get my freedom is to get some farm land up in northern Chargrene so I can raise some crops and breed rabbits. Power and authority didn’t figure into my plans anywhere. Of course, finding someone to settle down with didn’t figure in either so there you go. My plans aren’t very detailed, honestly.”
Prince Didymos stared at Kennet, blinking. His mouth worked but nothing came out as he gestured aimlessly. After a moment he made a gesture with one hand that resembled rabbit ears. Kennet grinned at his stunned response. It made up for a lot of the crap he’d had to put up with since he’d been sold to the royal family, though nothing was going to fix it all other than ending the attacks and Kennet being freed.
“Rabbits?” Prince Didymos finally asked as if he was sure that Kennet had finally gone insane.
Kennet laughed and nodded. It wasn’t the most rational of dreams. More than likely, no one who looked at him would have expected that Kennet wanted something that simple but it was such a straightforward dream that it had comforted Kennet ever since he’d run away from Elder Danek’s men.
Pondering how to set up his rabbit hutches and what breeds of rabbits to raise had been one of his best tricks for escaping the torture inflicted on him by the Alliance slave trainers. Elaborate mental plans for the best layout of his farmyard and how to prepare the hides for sale had gotten him through digging miles of ditches, more beatings than he could count and some of the most boring portions of following Prince Didymos around.
“I like rabbits,” Kennet chuckled. “They’re cute and fluffy, easy to breed. Fur goes for a good price and they roast up better than chickens in my opinion. Can’t beat a good rabbit stew. A lot less irritating than chickens too, though you don’t get eggs, of course. Probably have to have some chickens too but I mostly plan to raise rabbits.”
“I never know what to expect from you,” Prince Didymos sighed, once again looking away. “So you said no?”
“Nope,” Kennet said, not rolling his eyes at the way Prince Didymos’ head whipped back around to stare at him with stars in his eyes. “I said ‘after the assassination attempts are over’ because I won’t let myself be distracted from protecting you. It’s not a no. It’s also not a yes, Highness, so don’t get yourself all excited here. There are more important things to consider than who’ll be in your bed each night and who’ll stand by your throne once the attacks stop.”
“Oh no, you’d have a throne of your own,” Prince Didymos corrected and then grinned at the way Kennet glared at him. “It’s important. You wouldn’t be my General, though I’m sure you’d be wonderful at it. You’d be my Consort. Completely different position.”
“Mm-hmm,” Kennet hummed while licking his lips and tasting sweat mixed with the pastries from dinner. His eyes flicked to Prince Didymos’ crotch because the ‘positions’ the prince was thinking of had to be ones more involved with bedtime than the political side of things. “Sure, Highness. Still not saying yes or no yet.”
The glance at Prince Didymos’ crotch got a huge reaction, much to Kennet’s amusement. His pants tented out only to be hidden when Prince Didymos slapped his hands over his groin while blushing brightly. Prince Didymos whined when Kennet wagged his eyebrows at him. Kennet would have thought that he’d just suggested they go out and rape virgins on altars together from how ashamed Prince Didymos seemed to be of reacting that strongly.
Kennet laughed quietly and shook his head. He couldn’t remember ever being that shy about sex, even back when he was a shy kid trying to tell his best friend Juraj that he wanted to kiss him. The words hadn’t come out right so Kennet had just grabbed Juraj by the shoulders and mashed their lips together. Their noses had bumped together and it had been awkward as hell but pretty soon Juraj had shifted slightly and it had turned into something wonderful.
It still made Kennet mad that something so perfect had been his doom. If he had never grabbed Juraj that way then Kennet wouldn’t be sitting here as a slave, trying to reason with a love-struck prince and his doting father.
“Highness, this… you can’t really believe that we’d work together,” Kennet said while waving a hand between the two of them. “Look at you. Look at me. We’re complete opposites.”
“Why wouldn’t it work?” Prince Didymos asked.
His bottom lip pushed out in a spectacular pout that Kennet rolled his eyes at. Sadly, Prince Didymos didn’t seem to see all the ways that they were a bad match. Maybe it was his natural tendency to see the good in people, but Kennet could tell that he wasn’t seeing how miserable Kennet would make him.
“I’m short-tempered, gruff, abrupt,” Kennet said. “I have no patience for your moods. I don’t like being around people and you love being around people. I prefer to be left alone to work on problems while you want to be surrounded by others all the damned time. I’d drive you crazy pushing you away and you’d drive me crazy trying to get close all the time.”
Despite his words, Kennet understood very well why Prince Didymos had decided that he was in love with Kennet. Their weeks spent dodging assassins, living cheek to jowl, had all but guaranteed that Prince Didymos felt cut off from the rest of humanity. The only person he spent any amount of time around was Kennet. They ate together, bathed side by side, and went everywhere together. Even without the danger muddling Prince Didymos’ mind he would have fixated on Kennet.
It was natural. That didn’t mean that Kennet wanted to take advantage of him. If Prince Didymos had been a spoiled brat who expected that everyone was there to serve him, Kennet would have been perfectly happy to play the part of surprised and delighted slave eager to love his Master. The reward of freedom would have been more than enough to ensure that he played the role desired of him until he got what he wanted. Granted, he’d only have done it as long as it took to get his freedom and a reasonable amount of money before he made his escape but he still would have done it. Freedom was worth it.
Unfortunately for Kennet, Prince Didymos wasn’t a spoiled brat. He was everything that Kennet wasn’t and he obviously truly believed that he was in love with Kennet. Even after everything he’d been through, Kennet didn’t have it in him to fuck with someone as genuinely nice as Prince Didymos and then leave him behind. Hopefully he’d still be able to manage Prince Didymos’ crush to the point that he got his freedom when this was over but it was going to be a difficult balancing act.
“I like that you’re different than I am,” Prince Didymos pouted while rubbing his hands over his thighs. “I know I’m not the best person to rule Penhale and I think that together we’d be a very effective team.”
“I’ll grant you that,” Kennet said, “but that’s not what we’re really talking about, is it? I didn’t say anything about the throne. I said us, personally, Highness. I know myself well enough to know that I’d ruin you.”
Prince Didymos glared at him as if he’d just sworn a blue streak. “You shouldn’t talk about yourself that way, Kennet! Not just because you’re a slave.”
Kennet burst out laughing at that. He settled onto the floor next to the bed, gesturing for Prince Didymos to sit down as well. It took a moment for Prince Didymos to settle down but eventually he sat on the bed, still glaring at Kennet. The thought that it was his slavery that made it inevitable that Kennet would rip Prince Didymos’ heart out had Kennet laughing much longer than normal. By the time he managed to stop and wiped the laughter tears from his eyes Prince Didymos was pale and glaring his annoyance.
“Highness, sometimes you really do amaze me,” Kennet said, wiping his eyes again and sniffling against his laugh-tears. “I’m not saying that because I’m a slave. It’s because I’m a complete asshole. You’re a really nice guy. Truly. You’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I wish I was the sort of person who’d be good for you but the flat fact is that I wouldn’t be.”
“You’re not that bad,” Prince Didymos protested.
His words echoed in the barren room, not at all muffled by the netting draped over his bed. Kennet saw the guards outside on the balcony shift position, heard one of them make a gruff little cough as if he had something caught in his throat. As always, Prince Didymos didn’t notice them or look in their direction. He was focused entirely on Kennet as if he could convince Kennet to be a different sort of person than he really was.
“Where the fuck do you get that, Highness?” Kennet asked. “I’m serious. You’ve seen me for months now. Where have I ever shown that I’m somehow a hidden good guy?”
“I’ve seen you take care of people,” Prince Didymos said and then glared when Kennet snorted. “Yes, it’s reluctant and always brief but I’ve seen it! You don’t automatically hurt people. Granted, you’re very suspicious but that’s because of all the assassination attempts. You’re not a horrible person!”
“The fuck I’m not, Highness,” Kennet countered.
He craned his neck to make sure that he could still see the guards outside. One shadowy figure showed off on the left. The guard on the right was hidden but Kennet heard him moving around, shuffling his feet. Reassured that nothing had happened to them (yet), Kennet turned back to Prince Didymos.
No surprise, Prince Didymos was glaring at him as if his check was an effort to change the subject. Kennet had a hard time understanding how Prince Didymos could still be so oblivious to the potential dangers around him. It seemed so obvious that he should pay attention to where the guards were, what the servants were doing, that Prince Didymos’ complete inability to notice the people around him drove Kennet crazy.
Kennet shook his head. “I’m cold, Highness.”
“Yes, I am,” Kennet countered as he held up one hand to stop Prince Didymos from protesting even harder. “I can see that you care about me, really care about me.”
Prince Didymos blushed brilliantly enough that Kennet could see it even in the dimness of the room. He shifted on the bed, smiling shyly at Kennet. There was enough hope in his eyes that Kennet felt like he was kicking a puppy when he shook his head ‘no’ and continued.
“It doesn’t do a hell of a lot to encourage me to care about you, Highness,” Kennet said. “Doesn’t matter to me that you care about me. It’s just something that I can use to get better food, better clothes, better duties if our situations were different than they are.”
“You wouldn’t…” Prince Didymos started to say only to trail off into nothingness when Kennet raised an eyebrow. “You would?”
“Yeah, I would,” Kennet said. “Sorry that it bothers you but I’m calculating. It’s the sort of thing I do. I’m also violent. My temper is what it is and you’ve seen me at my best and my worst. There’s not a hell of a lot of difference, is there?”
“But you’re under so much stress,” Prince Didymos said in a tiny voice that was every bit as uncertain as Kennet wanted it to be. “That’s why you act this way.”
“Nope,” Kennet said. “This is just how I am. And that is not what you need to be happy, Highness. You would try your damndest to be what I needed to ‘change’ into someone nice and warm and loving, if only to you. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you thinking about it. The thing is that I’ve always been an asshole. I always was and always will be cold, calculating, violent and short-tempered. It’s not going to change. This is me. You can’t help me ‘get over’ this because ‘this’ is just who I am.”
Prince Didymos winced, staring at the hands clasped in his lap. The little speech seemed to have calmed down his lustful response to Kennet’s attention. That was a good thing. But he still didn’t seem to agree with Kennet about his character. Honestly, Kennet would have been surprised if he had. Right now, he really was all that Prince Kennet had to focus on. He needed to have hope and Kennet was Prince Didymos’ hope at the moment.
“I’ve seen more in you, Kennet,” Prince Didymos said, his eyes serious as he lifted them to stare at Kennet. “There is gentleness, humor and true warmth inside of you. You can love. You just need to find the right person.”
“There was someone who was right for me,” Kennet agreed. “I could love him. I did, too. And loving him is what got me enslaved, Highness. Love is a trap and I’ll be damned if I get caught in it again.”
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