Tate could feel them staring at him. He looked out across the village square and ignored their mocking grins and gloating eyes. They knew who he was and they knew what he was wanted for and for all that they might hate the city gentry that bled them dry every year with taxes that they couldn’t afford it was obvious that there was not one among them that cared a damn for his plight. They saw a half-blood bastard who had lived too long as an over indulged lord. None of them knew more about him beyond the rumours and gossip but he knew that they all believed we was getting exactly what he deserved. They were happy he was being forced to his doom; it made their lives seem a little easier in comparison. There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have hated them all for looking at him that way. He would have raged and struggled. But he knew better now, they couldn’t help the way they were. They had probably never been given the opportunity to be anything else.
In front of him the young prince spoke solemnly to his guardian. The two men had an odd relationship, one that was uncommon between a noble and his captain. Certainly there was normally respect between the two parties but Tate had never known his father or any of his brothers to confide in a commoner the way the prince did with his liege man.
“What do you suppose he’ll do with them?” Tanis asked, for what must have been the tenth time in the few days that Tate had travelled with them. Despite his impressive build and strong presence Tate had to remind himself that the prince was still only a boy, close to manhood but not quite there yet. Of course he would ask foolish, childish questions.
“We’ll find out soon enough.” The old one answered, the same answer he always gave. Perhaps despite his gruffness he only wished to save the boys feelings. A strange way for the northern people to treat one another. They were hardly known for their gentle and nurturing natures.
They stopped at an inn, the only one the small village had to offer. Tanis had wanted to travel through the night into the city but the old one had convinced him that they should go back in the morning when everyone was up and about to see what Tanis had brought back for his brother.
The young prince slid easily off the horse. He looked up at Tate questioningly, as if to imply that he would drag him down if Tate didn’t follow willingly. The half-blood dropped down beside Tanis and was instantly seized from behind. The old man gripped Tate’s right bicep painfully and pulled him close. He didn’t say anything to Tate, he never did.
He was dragged inside the inn and stared at some more; the innkeeper turned an interesting shade of purple from exhilaration that he had a prince in his midst and the old man spent most of his time grinding Tate’s arm bones to dust.
“We have a private room my prince,” The fat innkeeper blubbered, practically falling over himself to impress the boy. “No one will see you dine, you’ll have complete use of my staff.”
Tanis smiled at him, the open emotion of amusement an odd addition to his usually solemn face. “That would be welcome my good man, thank you.”
The innkeeper bobbed his head and ushered them into a small compact room that had already been made up with what must have been the innkeeper’s best plates and cutlery. Tate felt his arm released and he walked numbly to one of the empty chairs. He all but fell into it, his body suddenly weak and unsteady as he realised that soon he would be in the palace. He had no idea what would happen to him when he reached that dreaded place. He doubted Christian would be overly keen to woo him again. Likely he was going to hurt Tate a great deal before he finally killed him.
Suddenly, out of nowhere terror began to gnaw at him, buzzing in his ear, constricting his chest. It was all he could do to stop himself from standing up and running for his life. He was afraid, damn it to hell but he was morbidly frightened. Shame began to mix with his fear and with it came the familiar, bitter taste of guilt. All of those people dead because of me, he thought shamefully. He wondered suddenly if perhaps he wasn’t getting exactly what he deserved.
“Remember before, when you asked what would happen to the tinkers,” The words burst unbidden from Tate’s lips. He realised it was the first time he had spoken since they had taken him. Both men looked up at him in surprise but he was ignoring the old one for the moment. “They’re going to die Tanis, all of them are going to die, or they’re going to be sold into the southern slave galleries. They’re going to be raped and then tossed aside, or they’ll be broken so terribly that even if they do mange to survive they’ll have nothing left to come back to. So now you don’t need to keep asking.” He smiled wanly. “I thought you might want to know.”
He expected anger and violence but neither man moved towards him. The princling stared back at him, his wide blue eyes filled with pity, and perhaps regret. “Whatever happens to you after tomorrow, I Ankara escort want you to know that I am sorry, for everything.”
A part of Tate acknowledged the deep sorrow he heard in the young man’s words. He could easily relate with it when his own regret left a constant and painful ache in his chest. For a heartbeat he considered forgiving the boy, but it was a fleeting fancy that was quickly pushed aside in favour of the overwhelming anger he harboured deep within himself. He refused to allow himself to be governed by regret or sorrow, not when one of the reasons for all his strife was sitting comfortably opposite him. He may have considered himself an envoy of his elder brother but Tanis was as guilty as Christian.
They were up early the next morning. The old one insisted that they all bathe and Tanis was quick to agree. Tate cleaned himself half-heartedly as the old man loomed broodingly over him. He grumbled something about Tate’s worn tinker garments but decided against wasting time trying to find him something more presentable. Tate dressed slowly, going through the motions as his mind and instincts screamed for flight. Too late, he thought hopelessly, I can feel Christian practically breathing down my neck. It’s too late.
He climbed his horse woodenly, barely hearing the old ones rough threat should Tate try to run. It took a distressingly short amount of time to reach the city gates. It loomed over them, iron and cream spirals rising like great pinnacles into the heavens. The place buzzed with people and animals. Children ran amid the city traffic, shrieking and laughing as they engaged one another with their tiny wooden swords. All around him the people possessed skin as white as milk, hair as fair as the sun or as fiery as the heart of a forge. Those that possessed some wealth stood in jumbled clusters, easily noticed by their drab yet fine grey or black clothing. They didn’t smile, even their children seemed sombre, and though Tate noticed that occasionally their pale eyes would align almost imploringly on the shrieking peasant children.
He felt like he was drowning in a sea of grey as they broke through the gates and were ushered into the city courtyard. Why did the northern race detest colour so desperately? They were a beautiful race. With their sapphire and emerald eyes they should have been able to embrace colour and beauty. What in the name of the lady made them detest it so?
So vast, he thought with growing awe as Tanis led them up the winding white cobbled streets of the city platforms. High above them the palace loomed, a great monstrous structure that seemed to have been carved from the very ice that made their lands so inhospitable in the winter. Tate felt very small as he peered down at the surrounding masses. What hope did the tinkers have against such power? What hope did he have?
A commotion nearby brought Tate out of his revere with a start. He noticed a small cloister of men desperately trying to hold back a young man whose fevered eyes were fixed on Tate’s. The half-blood shied away, convinced the other man was trying to attack him because of his tinker garments. It took him a moment more to see, really see the person fighting so desperately to reach him. “Lukas?” He whispered. Unthinkingly he tried to turn his mount. Tanis was instantly before him; his bulk blocking Tate’s view of Lukas’s bucking form.
The prince frowned at him, a question forming on his lips when they both heard Lukas scream Tate’s name. The half blood inwardly cursed the tinker. He was going to get himself killed! Tanis began to turn and Tate reacted without thinking. He flung himself at the prince and they both fell. Tate landed on top, which was fortunate because it gave him the time he needed to scramble to his feet and bolt away from Lukas. He didn’t get far but then he never really expected he would. The important thing was giving Lukas the opportunity to escape with his friends. That thought comforted him as he was knocked flat by the heeled boot in his back. He must have fallen badly because when he hit the ground his world turned black.
There were certain things that passed beneath his notice. The arrogance and coldness that was associated with his kind has lessened with each passing year he remained trapped within the weak and flimsy confines of his own flesh, but for the most part he was still predominantly emotionless. He supposed he would have gone mad years before has he possessed the wild mannerisms of most men.
He was therefore shocked at the guilt he felt for the half-blood current misgivings. The youth was not his concern, he was man, he was the same as any of the others. They had taken his life, they had taken his freedom. What did he care for the life of one that was deemed so insignificant within his own race that he was allowed to be used so wrongly.
He looked within himself, past the darkness that confined his sight, past the walls that only existed to encase him further. He saw the half-bloods face, his eyes Ankara escort bayan so full of obvious and desperate despair. There was something about those eyes, something about the way they caught the light. It was unusual for a man to have eyes of gold. Despite himself he was curious. What manner of woman has birthed such an unusual child. She must have been truly unique to have passed on such odd eyes.
His shackled hand rose slowly to his own face. His slender hand brushed over his own closed eyes. Unusual indeed.
He awoke with a silent scream, his entire being aching with animal fear. Though it took a moment for his slumbering mind to catch up with his instincts he realised instantly that he was in danger. He rolled out of bed, a whimper bursting from his lips as he realised where he was. He felt thudding pain in his forehead and he traced his finger over the bandage that had been wrapped tightly around his head. He tried the door and unsurprisingly it was locked. So were the windows, though it seemed unlikely that they would leave them open considering his actions the last time he had been trapped alone in a room.
“No, no, no.” The words kept leaping from his mouth, even though he desperately tried to hold them in they refused to stop. “Please no, please!” He couldn’t control his fear; he couldn’t stop the feeling of being trapped. Christian was obviously insane! What was he going to do to him?
He paced around the ridiculous sweet, so rich and decedent it could only belong to Christian. The huge four poster bed took dominion of the room though the tapestries and pictures lent it an almost stifling appearance despite its size. There were numerous portraits of Christian. Him as a baby, a child, a man. Tate looked up into those cruel crystallised eyes and wondered what had happened to make him so deranged. His eyes when he was a boy were far softer, almost like Tanis’s.
The outer door closed with a tremendous bang. Tate resisted the urge to scream as he retreated back against the far wall and pressed his back against the cool stone. If he was going to die he would do it with at least a little dignity, not screaming like a woman. He watched the door to the sweet open with growing dread. His breath came quickly and shallowly as a shadowy figure emerged. She noticed Tate in the far corner with a look of obvious surprise.
“His highness would like to know if you are hungry my lord?” She said, dropping into a slight curtsy though her distaste was obvious when her eyes travelled over Tate’s gypsy garb. She looked at him expectedly, her revulsion dissolving into confusion when Tate’s legs collapsed beneath him and tears started washing down his cheeks.
“Sir?” She said uncertainly.
“Nothing.” Tate managed to squeeze out. “Please, get out.”
So she did, and Tate was left alone with his dread.
Christian nodded his head listlessly as his father droned on, laughing at his own pathetic jests and drooling over the skinny serving maids that fawned all over him. Christian yeaned to be away from the old man and the rest of his grasping brothers but appearances needed to be maintained and he couldn’t afford to openly insult any of them. His eyes aligned on Tanis and he felt a wave of revulsion as he watched his brother trying to melt into the background. The younger man looked up suddenly, his eyes wide as realised that Christian was watching him. The heir apparent felt a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He couldn’t help but feel a certain amount in power in knowing how much his brother feared him. The little maggot had his uses at least; he had brought Christian the half-blood.
Just thinking of Tate made a delicious shiver run down Christian’s spine. Seeing him the previous night, unconscious and so terribly vulnerable invoked an odd feeling in him. Anger at his defiance had clouded Christian’s mind from Tate’s true beauty. He had realised the previous night that he didn’t want to hurt Tate, he simply wanted to possess him.
He worried what he might do if Tate spoke back at him when they next met. He knew his temper could be sporadic, that sometimes he let his fury control his actions. He didn’t want that to happen with the half-blood. The idea of damaging something so perfect gnawed at him.
He smiled at Tanis, still watching him, his expression that of a startled rabbit. The younger man dropped his eyes as the colour drained from his face. Christian’s smile widened. He was the perfect man installed to be next in line for the throne after Christian. After all, he was too much of a coward to ever pose a threat to anyone, especially him.
Lukas bit back a flip reply and bowed his head slightly. A half score of soldiers trouped past them, their eyes watchful as they patrolled the busy city streets.
“Perhaps you’ll be able to find your precious slut if you ask to join the army Lukas.” Robert hissed, his hand casually gripping the pommel at his waist.
Lukas Escort Ankara gritted his teeth and closed his eyes briefly. He constantly had to endure Roberts acid jibes but they were beginning to grate heavily on his nerves. The past few days he had been hard pressed not to strike out at his brother. In a time when they really needed to rely on one another they were drifting further and further apart. Adam and the other renegade tinkers were beginning to notice and Lukas could tell it made them uneasy. He wanted to make things right between him and Robert but with every day that passed without them finding a solution Robert was getting worse and Lukas knew that soon he would be inconsolable and would end up doing something very stupid.
“Another group were loaded onto the ships today.” Adam said solemnly. “It was women and children this time.”
“How many?” Lukas asked, fighting back the urge to be sick.
“At least twenty, maybe more. They were being herded into the ship’s bowls like cattle.” He reached out and laid his hand on Lukas’s shoulder. “It doesn’t look good my friend.”
“They’re all gone.” Robert said quietly, his eyes wild as he looked at Lukas. “Our mother and father, our sisters and brothers. They’re on their way to the southern slave galleries as we speak.”
“There is one thing.” Adam said, though it was clear by his expression that he was unsure if he should go on.
Robert reached out and violently grabbed his arm. “What other thing? What is it?”
Adam’s pale eyes looked pointedly down at Roberts hand until the younger man released him. “I saw one of the kings men prowling around the cages. He stopped before one that housed your girls. I remember you pointing out your little sister. The baby, you called her Rose I think?”
“What of her?” Lukas asked warily.
“She was taken by the soldiers. She’s to be their new whipping girl.”
“Whipping girl?” Lukas asked frantically.
“Calm down my friend, it’s not as bad as all that. The highborn usually hire young peasants as a substitute for when their own children misbehave. They get whipped a little and that’s all there is to it. From what I hear the children are actually treated quite well. Better there than the slave galleries.”
“Better they were all home with us!” Robert yelled. “I can’t believe they’re all just gone! How in the name of the gods did you let this happen?”
Lukas didn’t have time to block the blow to his face. A moment of white pain and then he was being pulled back to his feet.
“You’ll get us all killed!” Lukas heard Adam hiss. “Get away from us Robert. I’ve had enough of you! Get away!”
“Wait,” Lukas slurred, but he was having difficulty collecting his thoughts and no one was paying attention to him. Suddenly he was being ushered down a back alley. He shook his head and looked for Robert. “Where is my brother?” He asked.
“I don’t know and after the stunt he just pulled I don’t care. We need to get out of here. Your brother can find us later when he’s cooled down.”
Lukas thought he should argue but the truth was that the loss of his family was just beginning to dawn on him. He couldn’t deal with Robert’s temper.
“I want my sister back.” He said quietly. “If the rest are lost to me I want to save her.”
Tate thought he had mustered his courage and was ready to face Christian. He took a deep breath and waited. The door opened, the princling shouted a jest to whatever follower was close by and then shut it with a loud thud. A moment passed and then another. The inner doors didn’t open. Tate felt his courage draining away. Why didn’t he just come, why was he torturing him?
He drew in another shaky breath. He felt suddenly that he might be ill. He fell against the wall at his back and felt tears threatening the corner of his eyes. His breathing grew more laboured. He realised he was panicking and fought to control himself. He almost succeeded when the door opened gently and Christian’s looming form walked casually into the room. His eyes travelled the length of Tate, his expression was cold, almost disinterested as he turned his back and began to pull off his cloak and boots.
Tate hadn’t moved. Now that the time had finally come he felt utterly numb. Perhaps it was terror or confusion but he couldn’t seem to make himself react as he knew he should. Before him stood the murderer of hundreds of good men, women and innocent children. Those that he had not killed he had equally ruined with slavery. He was a monster, a stupid, spoiled monster and Tate should have done everything in his power to slay him as he deserved. But he didn’t, he didn’t even move.
“I’ve imagined this moment a thousand times.” Christian said suddenly, his back to the half-blood as he poured himself a drink from the goblet the serving woman had left for Tate. “I’ve imagined all the things I would do to you for making me look like a damned fool before the court.”
“I doubt you’d need my help for that.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and they were said with enough venom to choke a horse. He saw Christian’s back stiffen and the numbness left him to be replaced with a sharp tang of fear. Gods above would he ever learn to shut his stupid mouth!