Clawing at his face, Tanis let out a frustrated groan. “Do you think the rumours are true Kener? Is there magic in his blood? Has he cast some sort of spell on me?” He looked beseechingly at his old mentor. “I never wanted a man before I knew him. A wife and children would have made me happy. But then I see him and it’s as if I’m a man possessed. I know Christian will kill me for it but still I approach him. To touch him, to see that small, sad smile of his. The only genuine one he has. What wouldn’t I give to make that mine?”
“Perhaps you are bewitched.” Kener mused. “He affects almost everyone he comes in contact with one way or another. I’ve even seen the king watch him from afar. And just think of the tinkers. An entire race destroyed. No man warrants such passion.”
“Do you feel nothing when you look at him?” Tanis asked miserably.
“He is a pretty half-breed my lord, that’s true. But I don’t think there’s much left to him beside that, if perhaps there ever was. His heart is as empty as his tongue is sharp. He does not feel for you.”
“He thinks I am a child.”
“You’ve barely reached maturity. He isn’t wrong.”
“He thinks I am the same as Christian.”
The old man clapped Tanis on the shoulder with enough force to knock lesser men to their knees. “In that, my lord, he could not be more wrong.”
“By the gods Kener, what should I do?”
The hand on his shoulder squeezed encouragingly. “For the sake of your future my lord you should let him go. He will never make you happy.”
“And yet still I think I love him.”
Christian was dangerously close to igniting and was positive he would not be able to contain his temper a moment more if his father said one more word.
“You cannot neglect your fiancé!” the old man bellowed. He pointed a shaking finger at his eldest son. “I will not allow it.”
Christian thundered to his feet and slammed his fist down in front of him. A shock of pain ran up his arm as his hand connected with the hardened oak tabletop but he barely noticed it. He felt his teeth pull back as he screamed back at the old dithering fool. “He is mine! Mine I say! If you try to take him away from me I’ll leave here and you can give your damned crown to that snivelling poxy Tanis!”
The old man looked startled for a moment. He leaned forward in his chair and regarded his son thoughtfully. “Christian, listen to me.” His voice was softer now, more reasonable. “You must realise how this is making us look? I understand you enjoy him and I’ll not begrudge you your fun but I cannot allow you to show preference for him over your intended wife. It is not acceptable.”
“Am I the one spreading my legs?” He thundered. “I use him, not the other way around. He is mine”
“Yet it is becoming blaringly obvious to me that you’re becoming obsessed.”
The comment threw the young prince for a moment before anger replaced his surprise. “You think I’m unable to control myself?” He hissed through gritted teeth.
“It respect to Hassan’s bastard? Yes, I don’t think you truly can truly control yourself.”
A sudden and dangerous calm settled over Christian as he considered the old man. “What are you saying father?”
“For the time being all I am asking is that you treat your intended wife accordingly. If you do I’ll not interfere, however if I think that you are not fulfilling your duties I will take him away. I make no idle threats Christian.”
The prince pinned his father in his stare and realised he saw fear in his father’s eyes. The old man was frightened him, and with good reason. Christian was beginning to bore of the old man’s meddling.
He performed a stiff bow and left the hall without waiting to be dismissed.
“I don’t want to!” Rose wailed, her little voice piercingly loud in the early hours of the morning. Tate lent over her and in a panic placed his hand over her tiny mouth. She screamed at him but the noise was thankfully muffled.
“Calm down.” He pleaded, staring in horror at the door to his tiny room. He expected Christian to burst in at any second. He held his breath but eventually the moment passed. Tate realised that the prince was probably still sloshed from his evening out. Thankfully he probably wouldn’t wake for a while yet. “Please be quiet.” He asked, nodding towards the door. “He might hear and come in.”
That at least calmed her down enough to make talking possible. Tate released his hold and let her shuffle away from him. There was hurt in his gaze and also a look of betrayal. If only she knew. “You promised I wouldn’t have to go back there Tate.”
He felt as though he had been kicked in the stomach. “I know Rose but you can’t stay in this room all the time. He won’t allow it.”
“Why can’t I go back to the gardens?” She asked, tears welling up in her pretty blue eyes. He felt a pang of longing looking at them. They reminded him so much of her brother.
How could he explain that the other children were offended by her? That her mere presence was an insult Ankara escort to them? He repressed a curse and pulled her close for a hug. She was tense for a moment but eventually melted into his embrace. He gently stroked her hair as he tried to find the least hurtful words to help her understand. “I would love for you to be able to stay in the gardens Rose but you know as well as I that the only ones allowed to play there are the young ladies and lords. Everyone else must work.”
“You’re a lord aren’t you?” She asked him abruptly.
Tate felt his entire body tense. “Who told you that?”
She was oblivious as she snuggled closer to him. “People talk about you in kitchens all the time.” She leant back and looked keenly into his eyes. “If you’re a lord Tate, why do you work as a squire? Can’t you stay in the gardens all day long? I would if I was a lord.”
Tate cleared his throat softly. Part of him wanted to know what the servants said about him but he didn’t think he could bear to hear it from Rose’s lips. He only hoped their words didn’t make her think less of him. “I’m not a proper lord Rose. Not like the ones you see in the gardens.”
“How’s that?” She asked him curiously.
“Well, my blood isn’t as pure as theirs. My mother came from another place.”
“Where?” She asked him as she yawned sleepily.
“I’m not really sure.” He admitted. “But when they had me my parents were not married. That means that I’m not considered pure.”
“Do you believe that?” She asked, and it seemed that his answer was incredibly important to her.
“I believe that the great lords and ladies in the gardens are some of the most impure monsters in the world. I’m glad they don’t count me as one of them.”
“They make fun of me in the kitchens.” She admitted. A brief pause. “Sometimes they hit me. They’re so strong Tate.”
“Who hits you?” He demanded, more fiercely that he intended because he made her flinch.
“The kitchen master.” She whispered, shuddering. “And some of the others. They say I’m dirty and clumsy. Sometimes they push me just so I break things and they can hit me.” Her little mouth started to tremble as she chocked back a sob.
“I’ll take care of it.” He promised, hating his father’s race more thoroughly than ever. “Now get some sleep Rose. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
She settled against him, falling asleep in his pallet instead of her own makeshift bed on the floor. He left her alone, knowing that having him close would chase away some of the awful nightmares that seemed to plague her nights.
He closed his eyes and willed the darkness to take him away.
The dream had been intense, the meaning clear. The prophet Miliananious wished to see him. He thought quickly, wondering what it could mean? It had been well over a year since the blind prophet had last spoken to him.
Tanis rarely even thought of the seer anymore, which suddenly left him with an odd sense of guilt, though if he was honest with himself he could admit that of late his thoughts resolved one being only. A pity that the person he so desperately longed for barely saw him at all.
He sat up in his bed and looked out of his chamber window. It was light out but the sky was still red and gold with the early morning sun. There would be few about so soon in the day to watch him climb the long steps to the prophet’s tower.
He changed, catching his sword and strapping it to his belt before striding quickly from his room. His movements were swift and urgent. Though he tried to tell himself that it was curiosity only that hastened his pace he knew it to be a lie. Something else drove him, something alien and thoroughly compelling.
He was almost running by the time he reached the bottom steps of the tower. The guards posted outside the prophets door looked at him suspiciously but neither one tried to deny him passage. Once they were out of sight Tanis took the stairs two at a time, racing up them with a speed that surprised even him. He reached the top and all but kicked the door down in his haste to be inside.’
Two milky white eyes greeted him as he fell gracelessly into the room. He should not have cared about his clumsiness, the prophet could not even see him after all. Despite all of that though he had the distinct impression that the ancient one knew exactly why he was blushing. “You called me?” He asked breathlessly.
The seer shifted slightly and the sound of his heavy chains was deafening in the absolute quiet. “You do not delay, do you?” He asked, smiling in a way that made him appear shockingly frail. His long silver hair glimmered in the early morning light, bringing to life the hard contrast as of his sallow face. By the gods, how had he deteriorated so much in such a short amount of time?
“What happened to you?” Tanis gasped.
“Why, am I no longer as pretty as I was?” He pressed a shaking hand over his hollow face and shuddered slightly. “Your brother visits me often. He tries to make me see beyond my reckoning.”
“Is Ankara escort bayan that why you called me?” Tanis asked gently. “You must realise there isn’t anything I can do to help you. I have no power over him.”
The ancient one laughed, and the rusty unused sound hit a painful chord within Tanis. “That it is not the reason I have asked you here. I would have you do something for me.”
“What is that?” Tanis asked uneasily.
“The halfling, the one Christian had me track down for him. It is important that I see him princling. I need you to bring him to me.”
Of all the things he might have expected that was the last. “Surely you jest? I can’t bring him here. Christian would kill me.”
“I need you to try princling. It is so important.”
Tanis shook his head but couldn’t make himself deny the prophet. Not after seeing what his own kin was doing to him. He reached for the door but stopped on the freshhold. “Seer, tell me. What is Christian trying to make you see?”
The prophet’s smile was dazzling, momentarily transforming him back into the beautiful creature he once was. “He seeks a gypsy.”
“I thought he sought them all?” Tanis asked in confusion.
“Once perhaps, but only so he could find his halfling.”
“Then why does he search for a specific one now?”
The prophet grinned at him and it was anything but beautiful. “Because this one is destined to kill him.”
Insane laughter followed Tanis as he rushed down the tower steps. The prince blocked it out as best he could as went to bribe the tower guards. Christian could never know what he had just found out.
Christian stared into the swirling masses of his city, situated so very far beneath him in so many ways. He’s down there somewhere, he thought hatefully as he looked into the faraway crowd in an attempt to spot his would be assassin. He felt a cold stab of dread unfurl in his stomach as he chanced a look over his shoulder and saw Tate sitting quietly on a lounger with a book in his lap. The older man must have sensed that he was being watched. He looked up and his tawny eyes stared unblinkingly back at Christian. In that instant the prince experienced an unusual moment of stark clarity.
He hates you, a small voice warned, worming its way into the joy he felt whenever he looked at his squire. He hates and despises you. You revolt him. He wants the tinker, the one sent to kill you.
He turned away and stared back at his city. “Where are you?” He whispered, staring with such intensity that he almost felt that his assassin would jump up and declare himself for Christian to see.
The prophet refused to tell him the exact date but he had promised that his death would be soon. He said it would sudden and he would die alone. It seemed inconceivable that he, a prince, could die without at least someone there who loved him. It seemed even more impossible that his murderer was to be a tinker.
More impossible still to think that the tinker that would kill him was the same gypsie that had stolen Tate’s heart. The prophet had released this small snippet of information with infinite joy.
No, he had said, Tate is not hollow or unfeeling. He can love, he does love. But not you. Never you.
He had hurt the prophet fiercely for that. He almost killed him for it.
He hit the balcony ledge with enough force to cause a shock of pain to shoot up his arm. He would not die, not by the hand of some sickening and weak gypsy! The tracker had seen him once, he had even admitted as much. He swore he could find him again. The prophet had admitted that the gypsy was somewhere in the city after all. The wolf had vowed to track the vermin down and dispose of him.
All he needed was to wait and once the tinker was dead his world would be good again and he could take the time to teach Tate to love him.
You’re limping well.” Richard remarked brightly as he fell into step beside Tate. The younger man shot him a sour look as he made his way slowly down towards toward the main kitchens. Normally he might have tried to act the disdainful upstart but Richard could tell the lad was in no condition to play his snobbish roll today. “What did you do this time?” he asked, grinning widely when the half-blood refused to answer. “Was it your mouth?” he asked, laughing loudly. “You do have an awful habit of speaking out of turn.”
The boy pursed his lips and with an obvious show of will didn’t say anything. Richard had recently noticed the change in the lad. He watched Tate act the dutiful servant. He played at being meek and cowed but Richard wasn’t fooled. The half-blood was up to something.
Of course the lad still made a few mistakes now and again, occasionally speaking flippantly or out of turn, sometimes even letting the mask of contempt slip a little when Christian touched him, but it was a rare thing now to see Tate walking with a limp. Consequently the brat prince was beginning to drop his guard around his reluctant companion and Richard would have bet his entire Escort Ankara fortune that the half-blood was working his way towards an escape attempt.
A gaggle of women, laughing and talking up ahead caught Richard’s ear. He looked sideways at the half-blood and was pleased to see the hesitancy in the other mans eyes. Their gazes briefly met before Tate could properly school his features. The poor boy looked sick. Richard didn’t try masking his delight as Tate stepped back against a far wall, pressing himself tightly against it and lowering his head into a respectful bow. Richard mimicked the position, hiding his smile in his shirt as he stepped beside the younger man.
They didn’t notice him at first but then Phatilia said quite loudly. “Oh look, if it isn’t my husband’s whore.”
For a moment no one spoke and Richard didn’t really blame them. Despite himself he was shocked. One did not expect the princess to possess such a foul or forward tongue.
He was further surprised when Tate stepped forward and tried to rush past them without being dismissed. It appeared Phatilia wasn’t finished with him though. She reached out and caught his arm, pulling his back until they were face to face. Tate stared back at her, his unusual eyes filled with a dangerous sort of fury as he allowed himself to be held. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She said in a high and totally insincere tone. “Have I offended you, my lord? I would hate to impede on your honor.”
Richard was suddenly very worried. Tate’s free hand was balled up into a fist and shaking. He stepped forward swiftly and laid a firm hand on the lads shoulder. The half-blood shot him a murderous glance before turning his attention back to Phatilia.
“Nothing to say to me, little whore?” she snapped, her eyes wide and furious as she lashed out and slapped Tate across the cheek. His head turned slightly but he barely even blinked. Amazingly he smiled.
“Believe me my lady, if I could trade places with you and make it so you were his alone I promise you I would.” His eyes hardened again and Phatilia actually stepped back. “Infact.” He whispered, pressing his lips against her ear. “I would give almost anything to make it so.”
She jerked back from him, watched him thoughtfully for a moment and then gestured her women onwards. They walked around Tate and Richard, none of them breathing a word until they were almost out of earshot.
Richard dealt the half-blood a solid cuff about the head that sent the other man staggering. “You’re lucky she didn’t have you whipped.” He hissed. “She was in her rights to. She’s to be queen one day my boy, you should try to get on her good side.”
Tate gave the captain the sort of look usually reserved for the worse kind of idiots. He tried to walk around Richard but the older man wasn’t about to let the insult lie. He stepped into Tate’s path, daring him to try and force his way past. It appeared Tate was beginning to learn his lessons though. He stopped very still and simply looked at him. “The prince is waiting for his lunch, captain.”
Richard allowed his eyebrows to rise. “You playing at being his servant today?”
The lad shrugged. “It’s no worse than anything else I do. May I pass?”
“Such lovely manners.” Richard drawled as he reached out and caught a lock of Tate’s hair. He had seen Christian do it on many occasions and knew how much the half-blood hated it. As predicted Tate reacted, slapping away Richards hand and stepping back. Their eyes locked and Richard smiled as he saw the panic in the other mans eyes. He reached for him but unsurprisingly Tate dropped below his grasp and darted back towards the kitchens. Richard watched him run and couldn’t help the smile that turned up the corner of his lips.
Tate tried to act causal as he entered the kitchens. The prince’s other servants would normally fetch his meals for him and Tate was unaccustomed to the busy chaos that seemed to dominate the main palace kitchens. He had carefully asked the prince if he could fetch the food to check on Rose. Christian had smiled indulgently and sent him on his way with a leisurely wave of his hand. The gods only knew why he was being so accommodating. Perhaps he felt guilty for having hit him the night before when Tate’s only fault had been getting in the princes way. He pressed his hand to his face and ran his fingers over the tender flesh beneath. When he’d woken that morning the pain in his cheek had quietened to a dull throb. Now thanks to Phatilia’s gentle handling he was in quite a bit of discomfort again. He permitted himself a small sign and dropped his hand.
He found Rose hunched over a large pot of hot water. Her little hands were red raw as she worked through a huge pile of dirty dishes. He felt a lump in his throat as he watcher her. He barely recognised the angelic little girl he known during his time with the tinkers. Because of him she was little better than a slave now.
He blatantly noticed that a number of serving men and women were watching him. He did his best to ignore them as he watched Rose. Perhaps the cook knew why he was there and that was why he didn’t bother her. Tate decided a more direct approach was in order and he draw near to the head cook, discernable by his bulging stomach and white apron.