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
25: Forging an Alliance
Queen Yafiah’s camp was one hell of a lot more disorganized that King Rihab’s. Kennet looked around it and wanted to start kicking ass on general principles. The soldiers sprawled around camp fires, many of them looking drunk. Even when they saw Queen Yafiah riding by they didn’t straighten up or attempt to clean up their area. The weapons were poorly maintained, the armor haphazard at best. Kennet didn’t claim to be a great warrior but even he could see that Queen Yafiah’s army wasn’t going to win any battles against King Rihab.
The camp clustered around a keep that looked like a rich nobleman’s idea of what a keep should be. It had way too many windows and way too low of a wall surrounding it to be effective as any sort of fortification. That was where they rode. Once inside the low wall Kennet growled in spite of himself. The soldiers here weren’t even keeping watch for an attack. He was pretty damn sure that Queen Yafiah didn’t have a strong enough hold on the mountains to be this lazy about her security.
“You’re sneering,” Queen Yafiah commented as they dismounted.
“You blame me, Majesty?” Kennet snorted. “Your men aren’t exactly impressing me here.”
She glared at the men with her but they didn’t go and start yelling at people to get things straightened up. The lack of response made her cheeks go red. “We are not a true army.”
“Obviously,” Kennet replied. “I’d crack every skull from here to the edge of the camp if it was me.”
“Tempting,” Queen Yafiah said.
This time her glare was accompanied by a wicked smirk that made her men start to fidget. Kennet got the impression that she wasn’t a real queen. She was more like the leader of bandits than any ruler of his acquaintance. That he actually had met kings and queens from more than one country made Kennet’s head swim for a moment. It was so fucking bizarre that it took him several seconds to just accept that yes, his life actually had gone there. He was a person who flirted with princes, fucked princesses and pissed off kings and queens.
“The rain,” Idris gasped.
Kennet looked up from the spot by his foot where he’d been fixated and snorted when he realized that the raindrops were suspended in midair around them. All the soldiers were whispering prayers to Inina while Queen Yafiah looked like she wanted to pull her sword and start slashing at the air to make the water fall right.
“Sorry,” Kennet said, waving one hand just so that they’d have something to look at. Na’im chuckled in the back of his head and mentally apologized for his abstraction. “Got a little too deep in thought for a second there.”
The rain fell again, making everyone start and stare at him. Queen Yafiah opened her mouth to say something but whatever she saw in Kennet’s eyes made her shut it again. She led the way into the keep. Kennet followed, keeping one hand on Idris’ shoulder because there was no way in hell he was letting the kid wander around among people who looked like they wanted to kill him.
Inside, the keep was just as disorganized as the camp outside had been. Idris curled a lip at the piled garbage in one corner and the generally filthy tables and benches strewn around the large open area. It probably would have been a proper audience hall given the soaring ceiling draped with spider webs but Queen Yafiah’s people had turned it into a squalid dump.
“We need to talk,” Kennet said before Queen Yafiah could sit down on the big oak chair that she apparently used as a throne. There wasn’t even a dais for it, just one side of the room with a table in front of the chair while everyone else used benches. “Privately.”
“Certainly,” Queen Yafiah said, eyes flicking to his hand on Idris’ shoulder. “I’ll have the boy… entertained elsewhere.”
“He comes with us,” Kennet said, letting himself glare just as fiercely as he wanted to. He suspected that his eyes flashed with Na’im’s power because Queen Yafiah shivered and backed off a step. “Don’t be a fucking idiot. He’s key to what we need to talk about, Majesty.”
“Of course,” Queen Yafiah said.
She inclined her head in a nod that was probably intended to be regal. It came off as irritated instead. The upstairs was a lot cleaner than the downstairs. It had been divided into multiple rooms. Kennet was pretty sure there were several stories above the floor they ended up on. Queen Yafiah led them to an office that looked just about like offices that Kennet had seen elsewhere.
There were shelves with scrolls that he couldn’t read piled on them and a desk that had stacks of paper that he also couldn’t read. The blocky script they used in Rudrash wasn’t one that he recognized. When Na’im used his body to pick up a piece of paper he didn’t recognize it either, much to Na’im’s annoyance.
“Speak,” Queen Yafiah ordered. She snatched the piece of paper out of Kennet’s hand.
“The kid needs to get to Penhale as quick as possible,” Kennet said. “Not just because I’m pretty sure that your people will slit his throat if they get half a chance but also because the sooner he’s there the sooner we get allies to kill that fucking bastard Rihab.”
“You truly hate him,” Queen Yafiah murmured as her eyes went narrow with thought.
“He tortured me and wanted to deliver me to slavery, Majesty,” Kennet said. “You’re damned right I hate him. His fucking daughter’s not a hell of a lot better, either.”
Idris made a little noise that was somewhere between hurt and furious behind Kennet. When he turned to look Idris was leaning against the wall by the door, arms over his chest and face turned away so that neither of them could easily see his expression. Queen Yafiah’s eyes went narrower still as she nodded slowly.
“I am surprised that you care so much about your little hostage,” Queen Yafiah said.
“He’s not a hostage, Majesty,” Kennet said. “The kid cut me free. I’d been staked out in the sun after being beaten bloody. His mom and granddad are all set to use him to kill off the Penhale royal family and he decided he’d rather side with his dad than his mom who thinks he should be killed on his coronation day.”
That made Queen Yafiah flinch. Idris was even more hunched in on himself when Kennet glanced at him but he glared defiantly at Queen Yafiah. She sighed and rubbed her face, passing a hand over her short-cropped hair. Through Na’im, Kennet was aware of the fact that her heart was beating too fast, pushing the blood through her body so fast that he had to think she expected to get attacked at any moment. Idris was far calmer though his blood flow felt pinched, as if the hunching inwards had tightened up his arteries.
“That is fucking weird,” Kennet commented to Na’im.
“I find it quite useful information, personally,” Na’im replied, amusement coloring his words a rich sapphire hue in Kennet’s mind.
“King Barabbas doesn’t know about Idris,” Kennet said because he wasn’t just about to have an argument with Na’im about adding to Kennet’s senses with no warning, not where people could hear and see him acting like a crazy man. “We need to get him on a fucking boat or something. Anything to get him out of Rudrash and into Penhale.”
“I find myself lacking in boats,” Queen Yafiah drawled with enough irritation that Kennet grinned at her. “Your enjoyment of making others angry is quite frustrating.”
“I’m tempted to say that it’s all part of my charm,” Kennet said just teasingly enough that he shouldn’t get kicked somewhere tender, “but I suspect that you might not like that reply, Majesty. You shoulda seen how I treated Prince Didymos and his father.”
“If you are going to fornicate,” Idris said sharply enough to make both Queen Yafiah and Kennet glare at him, “I think I would prefer to take my chances with being murdered below.”
“That can be on the agenda,” Kennet said just to make Idris hiss at him and to see what Queen Yafiah did. “Still want a safe room to stash you in so that no one hurts you, kid.”
Queen Yafiah barked a laugh that was a single burst of amusement. She stood and led the way out into the hallway. They went up the stairs, down a hallway and then down two flights of stairs until they were in a part of the keep that looked older and much more defensible. The windows here were mere slits in the stone wall, barely wide enough to fire arrows through. They came to a series of doors, each sturdy and well maintained.
“Dimi,” Queen Yafiah said as she opened the door to a plain little cell housing a pale slave with hair the color of sunlight that came down to his ass. His hair was all he had to keep him warm as the boy was completely naked. “You’re to watch over Idris here. Keep him in your cell with you until we return.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Dimi said in that perfectly flat tone that Kennet had learned to use whenever he hated the orders he’d just gotten.
Kennet looked around the cell, taking in the lack of blankets on the pallet, the lack of anything other than the pallet and the open window. “Get some fucking blankets in this room, something on the floor and for fuck’s sake, a fire pot or something. I don’t want the kid catching a goddamned cold after all this rain.”
His demand made Queen Yafiah stare at him as if she couldn’t understand the problem but another cell up the hall had a couple of blankets that were worn but still thick enough to keep them warm and there was a rug that Kennet grabbed. Dimi stared at the floor the entire time that Kennet laid out the rug and then gasped when Kennet covered him with one of the blankets. His eyes were a very pale blue that was almost grey when he looked up at Kennet.
“We don’t have fire pots,” Queen Yafiah complained as Idris helped lay the rest of the acquired blankets on Dimi’s bed. “Ila, the lord who owns this keep, never invested in them.”
“Fucking moron,” Kennet grumbled. “Right, I guess we do it the other way then.”
He tentatively reached for Na’im’s power, hoping like hell that there was a way to raise the temperature in the little cell. Na’im chuckled and showed Kennet exactly how to do it, how to use the moisture in the air as little vibrations that somehow heated the room until it was damn near too hot for Kennet to be wearing his pants. It made his lack of a shirt quite livable though, so it would be just about right for Dimi’s naked body.
“So warm,” Idris breathed, relaxing as he sat cautiously on the pallet. “I did not know you could do that.”
“Eh, it’s not going to last forever,” Kennet said as he focused on keeping the room warm for the next month or so. It didn’t take much power and he’d be damned if he’d allow Dimi to freeze. “Just a while.”
“A waste of energy if you ask me,” Queen Yafiah grumbled. “The boy is barely useful. All he does is dance.”
“…Let’s go have that talk,” Kennet said. He was well aware that his eyes flashed with Na’im’s power from the way the room flared blue. “Idris, stay put and be quiet. The fewer people that know where you are the safer you are.”
“Do not take too long with your fornication,” Idris grumbled. “We should keep moving so that Grandfather does not find us.”
“Oh, he knows right where we are, kid,” Kennet said and yeah, he knew that wasn’t exactly reassuring. “He’s just not going to act without thinking first. He can’t miss where I am. Fortunately, I know right where he is too.”
Both Idris and Dimi stared at Kennet as he shut the door. Kennet wasn’t sure that leaving Idris alone was a good idea but it looked like Dimi was entirely too abused to harm him. He showed some signs of having been Alliance trained but Kennet didn’t think that he really was. It might just be that Dimi had had his spirit broken by his previous masters instead of the fucking horrors involved in Alliance training. They headed back up the stairs towards the less secure side of the keep. As they did so Kennet caught himself plotting out how he could take Dimi away from Lord Ila and wondering if just flat taking the boy would be possible.
“You’re fucking ruining me,” Kennet complained to Na’im. “I’m going soft here, Na’im! I never would have thought of saving a slave like that.”
“You did not have the freedom or power to save anyone, even yourself, previously,” Na’im observed. “Do not blame me for your own emotions. I may have some slight effect on your emotional temper but you have an equal effect on me. I must say it is somewhat disconcerting to be so suspicious of everyone.”
Kennet barely kept himself from snorting as they entered a small dark room that turned out to be Queen Yafiah’s bedroom. He grinned that she’d apparently decided that ‘fornication’ was the best method to making Kennet her ally. Somehow he suspected that Queen Yafiah would be a great deal more susceptible to Kennet’s sexual training than Princess Tahirah had been.
The bedroom was barely big enough for the two of them plus the bed and chest overflowing with clothes. Queen Yafiah looked at him, one eyebrow raised as she studied him. Her hand reached out to rest on the spot where the poisoned cut had been. The touch made Kennet shiver because her hands were even colder than his flesh was.
“It is beautiful,” Queen Yafiah commented. “I have never seen a tattoo so detailed or in those colors before.”
Kennet stared at her, confused.
“You have a tattoo on your arm, shoulder, chest and back,” Na’im explained as he sent a mental image to Kennet of what it looked like. Waves curled around his arm, swept up over his shoulder and then crashed on his chest and back. “My apologies for not informing you. It is one of the effects of being my host.”
“Thank you,” Kennet said to both Queen Yafiah and Na’im with a little emotional rider of annoyance at not knowing about it until that moment. It was weird that he couldn’t see the damned thing. “Praise isn’t needed if you want to bed me, Majesty. I’m a simple sort of man with simple desires.”
“One hopes that you don’t have equally simple skills,” Queen Yafiah laughed.
It was the first honest laugh he’d heard out of her and it almost made her beautiful. For just a moment Kennet could see the beautiful young woman she must have been years ago. He leaned in and kissed her, not expecting much of a response. She surprised him by kissing back as passionately as he’d ever been kissed. Her hands were already on his pants, pulling them open and sliding them down so Kennet returned the favor, tugging her armor off and stripping her down to her underwear as quickly as possible.
No surprise given the armor and riding she’d been doing, Queen Yafiah smelled of sweat and a woman who’d gone a little too long without a bath. It wasn’t bad enough to make Kennet turn away as he pushed her back on the bed but Na’im did something with his power that somehow sweetened her scent, changing it from sour to fresh so quickly that Queen Yafiah didn’t appear to notice that she’d been touched by magic. How anyone could miss the feeling of magic on their bodies Kennet would never know but he sent Na’im thanks as Queen Yafiah guided his mouth down her body.
She gasped when he stopped to suck and bite her nipples. Good firm squeezes had her moaning a hell of a lot louder than gentle touches. Little bites all around the swell of her small breasts made her shudder. When Kennet bit down and left a bite mark on one side she shouted, bucked against his thigh and came.
“Not so simple after all,” Queen Yafiah laughed. She moved as if to get up, staring at him when Kennet pushed her back down.
“I’m just getting started, Majesty,” Kennet said. “Unless you’re in a rush to go downstairs to that pit of a hall and listen to people be idiots.”
“I suppose I could listen to what you have to say,” Queen Yafiah said, licking her lips with something very like hope in her eyes if only the expression hadn’t been quite so suspicious.
“Don’t have much to say, Majesty,” Kennet chuckled as he rubbed against her and let her feel his cock slide over her belly. “Just a lot to share.”
Feeling him move over her made Queen Yafiah groan. She nodded eagerly this time, sitting up to kiss him and then gasp as he used all his skills to touch and tease her. Kennet didn’t exactly want to sire a child with the woman so he used his fingers to first tease her clit and then delve inside once Queen Yafiah was gasping and clutching his shoulders. Her second orgasm was stronger than the first, unleashing enough wetness that Na’im crooned approvingly in the back of Kennet’s mind. Kennet kept massaging that spot inside of her while biting and sucking on her nipple.
“Pervert,” Kennet said to Na’im as he showed Kennet a couple of techniques for coaxing Queen Yafiah into even more powerful orgasms. “Those are good but so is patience. This’ll work just as well.”
“Quite so,” Na’im laughed. “Her responses are quite lovely for such a horrible personality.”
“Yes!” Queen Yafiah shouted as the continued stimulation pushed her into a third orgasm. She pushed his hand away, shaking underneath him. “Blessed Inina, you will be the death of me.”
“Good way to die, Majesty,” Kennet chuckled. “Better than a lot of ways, not that I want you dead at all. A dead ally’s no help at all, you know.”
“And you still have not come,” Queen Yafiah moaned as she realized that he was hard as a rock against her hip. She looked at him sharply, suspiciously. “Can you come?”
Kennet grinned at her, wagging his eyebrows because he had to after a question like that. At the same time he mentally asked Na’im if there was a way to make sure that he absolutely couldn’t get Queen Yafiah pregnant. There’d been no chance to ensure that Princess Tahirah didn’t conceive, not that Kennet thought a Blood Mage would have any problems preventing conception if she wanted to, but now he did have the possibility of ensuring it didn’t happen.
“Oh yes, that’s quite simple,” Na’im said as he happily showed Kennet exactly how to prevent himself from impregnating anyone until he specifically chose to. “Shall I?”
“Fuck yes,” Kennet said. “I need to fuck her brains out to get her to think of us as real allies, Na’im. Or at least to get her relaxed enough to listen to reason.”
“Done,” Na’im said. “It had been a very long time. I think I will enjoy this quite a lot.”
Queen Yafiah’s expression was a little frightened so Kennet’s eyes must have flashed with Na’im’s power or something. He snorted and rubbed against her once more. The pressure and friction made her moan.
“Just making sure there aren’t going to be any unexpected babies, Majesty,” Kennet said. “It’s hard to fight a war with a baby in your belly, after all.”
“…You can do that,” Queen Yafiah said after staring at him for a long moment that made Kennet start chuckling.
The stare lasted twice as long this time. By the time Queen Yafiah started laughing, Kennet was grinning at her and rocking against her belly with enough interest and intent that she started sweating. Queen Yafiah pushed him over onto his back, straddling Kennet so that she could slide down on top of him.
“I hope you are as skilled with this as you are with your fingers, Mage,” Queen Yafiah said as she took his entire cock inside of her.
“Even more so, Majesty,” Kennet said. “You’re in for the ride of your life.”
She laughed until he stared rocking his hips. The combination of his moments plus a firm grip on her hips had her clit grinding against his body as his cock thrust up into her. Queen Yafiah fell forward and just barely braced herself before collapsing onto his chest. He grinned at the wonder and amazement in her eyes, giving her an extra buck just to add to the fun of the sex. She might not be the best person in the world and she obviously wasn’t the best leader but Kennet could still enjoy a good long fuck with her in the hopes of getting her fully on his and Idris’ side.
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