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He tried to avoid thinking too much about his present circumstances. Simply trying to survive sometimes offered a slight means of distraction. Try as he might though Lukas’s thoughts inevitably reverted back to his family. He sorely missed his father’s guidance, especially at a time when he needed it the most. He had been there his entire life, helping and teaching him the way of their people. He had accepted every aspect of Lukas life without judgement or regret. He had never challenged Lukas’s decision not to take a wife, or the consequences that accompanied a childless male. He had, when everything was said and done, been the best father a child could ask for.
Now in a world where all he had known was family and companionship Lukas was suddenly very much alone. He pulled his knees into his chest and looked slowly around the small room he shared with the other tinkers. He missed his wagon and the array of colours that used to fill his world. It was so drab within the high city walls. Even the colours of his clothes were grey and black.
Despite himself Lukas wondered where his father was now. He hoped the old man had managed to keep his mother safe. Somehow thinking they might still be together made things a little easier. Since he had learned of their fate he had concentrated wholly on Rose. To think of what his brother and other sisters might be enduring hurt too much for his already broken heart.
And then there was Robert, wondering alone in a hostile city without any money or friends. Lukas dreaded to think what would become of his brother. Despite frantically searching for him he had found no sign of his sibling. Robert had been so angry for so long that Lukas was terrified of what he might do in order to gain the revenge he so desperately sought.
Home sickness swept through him so suddenly that it took his breath away. Vivid images of his life, things that seemed so long ago now that they might have happened to someone else, flashed before his eyes. He recalled the way the children laughed and shrieked amid the glowing campfire light. He remembered the way their brilliant clothing flowed in a whirlwind of colour and vitality before the fire, how trinkets and scarves and jewellery shimmered at every earring and throat and wrist. He pictured his people as they sang and played instruments, as they laughed and told the stories of their past.
All Lukas could hear now was the yells and bellows that always seemed to accompany the peasant quarter. Though he had visited cities before he had never spent a long time within their walls. He longed for fresh air, sunlight and colour.
The door to the room opened suddenly. It was another of the renegade tinkers but even so Lukas found it difficult to release the tight hold he had on his dagger. “Any news?” He asked, easing back so the elder man could take his place beside the small heath that was all they had to keep them warm.
“Nothing really. A few more were taken in but there are less with each passing day. My guess is that the others have either already turned south or there aren’t any of us left.” He groaned softly as he warmed his hands beside the fire. “There was a little boy, he looked just like my lad.”
Lukas met the other man’s sorrowful eyes but what could he say to ease such pain. He turned back to the hearth and thought of life as it should have been. He thought of golden eyes and sun kissed skin. Not for the first time he felt anger and betrayal as the image of Tate lingered in his mind. And though a part of him hated the half-blood he could not banish the hollow feeling of loss in his chest when he thought of him.
“I’ve lost them all.” He groaned suddenly with such anguish and pain he was sure his heart was about to burst. Tears washed unbidden down his cheeks. “I’m alone.”
“We all are.” The old man said gruffly beside the fire. “And we’ve got but one man to blame for that.”
Christian glared at their father with seething hatred. “You can’t be serious?” He sputtered, leaning forward with his eating knife clenched tightly in his right hand. “I will not marry that, that cow!”
“Lady Phatilia is hardly a cow.” The old man said good naturedly, totally oblivious to Christian’s glaring distain. “By all accounts she is devastatingly lovely. She’s said to have a sharp and cunning wit.”
“A crone who thinks beyond her sex more like.” Christian spat. His furious gaze settled cunningly on Tanis. “Why not marry her to the boy. I’m sure he’d appreciate the crone far more than I.”
Their father turned to Tanis and with a dreamy smile. “Lady Phatilia has been bred to marry a king, not a prince. She is to be yours Christian’s. You should be happy with the match.”
“It has already been decided!” The old man suddenly boomed, the iron in his voice reminding everyone of the man he used to be before old age robbed him of so much of his fierceness. His normally watery eyes shone with malignance. “She is awaiting your arrival within the southern casino oyna province. You are to meet the princess and her entourage and you are to escort her back here for your wedding. You are not to delay; you are not to mistreat her. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“Fine!” The prince literally screamed. He punched the table beneath him, embedding the knife in the aged wood. “I know my duty father! I’ll marry the cow if you wish it.”
“Christian?” The king rose slowly to his feet. “One more thing. You are not to make this trip within the company of your squire. He will remain here until you return. “
Tanis literally leaned back from him when Christian’s gaze swept over him. A look of barely contained fury was trapped within his gaze and it was directed almost solely on their father. “Your pardon my king but why is the company I keep any concern of yours.”
“I will be blunt, as we are within the company of family. I do not wish for your new wife to be immediately confronted with your squire. I do not think it is necessary for me to say why. You need not worry; he will be kept under careful watch whilst you’re away.”
“No.” Christian said between clenched teeth.
“Yes,” The king corrected. “And if need be I will have him taken away against your wishes. The mongrel’s father has been asking for him, you know this.”
Tanis had seen his brother angry before but he had never seen the mad look of fury that seemed to physically radiate from him. He started sputtering, his fists sporadically clenching and unclenching as he took a faltering step forward. He stopped abruptly, turned on his heels and thundered from the hall.
Tate was sat quietly within the prince’s parlour, his legs crossed upon the luxurious scarlet rug as he leafed leisurely through a book from the palace library. He looked up sleepily when he heard the outer doors open. Immediate weariness washed through him, banishing away the brief feeling of calm he had been enjoying.
It was Christian of course. “What are you reading?” He inquired softly. To Tate’s surprise the young man settled down beside him and gently plucked the book from Tate’s fingers. “The history of Acranim.” He mused. “Where did you get this?”
“The library.” Tate said slowly as he took the book back. He looked over his shoulder but he couldn’t quite read the look on Christian’s face. He resisted the urge to ease away from the prince and tried to concentrate on what he was reading. He gave up eventually though. The feel of Christian’s breath on the back of his neck was impossible to ignore.
He put the book down and got quickly to his feet. Christian stared at him with narrowed eyes and Tate felt a mounting feeling of panic. “Can I get you anything?” He asked as he stepped back a few steps.
Christian got smoothly to his feet and frowned thoughtfully at the smaller man. “Tell me something Tate, do you enjoy living here with me?”
Tate swallowed his initial response and took a moment to think. Of course he didn’t enjoy living with the prince! He hated him and everything he stood for. Had he the courage he would have gladly thrust a knife through Christian’s black heart. Of course there was only one response that Christian expected and that wasn’t the truth. “It’s an honour my lord.” He said, not quite mumbling.
Christian smiled very slightly and shook his head. “Of course it is.” He said wryly. He squeezed the bridge of his nose and let out a quiet sigh. “We had an interesting dinner tonight.”
“That’s – that’s good my lord.” Tate stuttered, confused by Christian’s odd mood.
“Oh yes, you’re right. It was good, wonderful in fact.”
He looked expectantly at Tate. “May I ask?” Tate said eventually when he realised Christian was waiting for him to do just that.
“Of course you may, In fact I was hoping you might. The king has happily found me a bride. A princess that’s rumoured to be a ravishing beauty.” His smile looked more like a grimace. “He’s been trying to marry me off for years and now he’s finally put his wizened old foot down. I’m to go and fetch her in no less than one score days. ” Tate hadn’t noticed that Christian had picked up his book until the young man flung it across the room with frightening force. His aim was true and it struck the great gilded mirror above the fire place. The glass shattered and carpeted the floor with hundreds of glittering tiny shards.
Tate didn’t move. He let out a sharp breath when the prince’s outer doors slammed open. Christian didn’t seem to notice. He was screeching wordlessly and his hands were destroying everything that got in his way. He only stopped when the inner doors burst open and Richard, with half a dozen guards, piled into the room with their swords drawn.
Richard eyes flickered briefly over Tate, measuring the danger he presented and instantly dismissing him. “Your highness,” Richard said softly as he sheathed his blade. The other soldiers followed suit. “Is something wrong?”
“Wrong?” canlı casino Christian screeched madly. “Wrong! What in the name of the gods could possibly be wrong?”
“My prince,” Richard said very quietly and calmly. “People can hear you. They think you’re being attacked.”
Christian’s mad eyes seemed to calm very slightly. However insane he was he did seem to be able to hide it rather well. His eyes seemed a little clearer as he straightened his clothes. “I’m going out,” He hissed, the words almost a threat.
Tate hurried to get out of his way as Christian rushed past him. His eyes meet briefly with Richards before the other man hurried after the prince.
Tate took a deep breath and felt a moment of giddy relief. He had gotten through the entire ordeal without a single scratch.
Lamidor closed his eyes briefly and tried to banish the image of the Tanis’s smug face. He had been so close to obtaining the title and money he had always deserved. He had personally caught and tracked down the mongrel. He had been so close.
“Your ale Tracker.” The bar keeps said disinterestedly as he plonked a tankard down in front of the woodsman. Lamidor barely even noticed.
If only that old hag had not double crossed him! If only that little coward Tanis had not involved himself. So many things had been stacked against him.
He took a long drink of his cheap ale and thought about his choices. He was too far from the country to make any real money as a tracker, but for the time being he couldn’t bear to leave the city. Around him in the huge spiralling towers and beautifully cobbled streets was the life he wanted. It was the life had had so desperately sought since childhood.
His mother, he had learned, had not been some common farmer his father had ploughed in some nameless barn. She had been lady, a governess in fact. She had taken a liking to his father and together they had made him. She had given him up, something that still made him furious, and his father had claimed him. It wasn’t until he was older that his father had told him the truth. He was the son of a gentlewoman, meant for better things than the life he had always known.
Since that day he had done everything to become a gentleman. He spoke in the high tongue and he knew his numbers perfectly. True he wasn’t a dandy and he had never learned to read but he figured that when the time came he could simply hire a scribe. And who wanted to be a dandy!
A huge commotion caught his attention as the door to the whore house was flung open. A band of finely dressed young men pilled in. Guards followed them, keeping a careful eye on the other patrons. Whispers quickly spread and the word Christian and prince were said frequently.
Lamidor gaped. Was it not a sign from the gods? The answer to all of his prayers and wishes stood not a few feet away from him. He stood up slowly and approached the fine looking group. The guards pressed him back but he kept a pleasant smile on his face and bowed very slightly. “My prince,” He called over them.
The young man was very tall and handsome. His younger brother certainly favoured him in looks. His clear blue eyes assessed Lamidor for a moment before his upper lip curled in distaste. “What?” He demanded, making no attempt to be polite.
“Forgive my forwardness my prince but you and I have a common acquaintance. Two in fact.” He eased cautiously forward. “Your brother employed my services not too long ago.”
“For what?” Christian asked, wrinkling his nose as the tracker came closer.
“To acquire– something you lost my prince. A young man that had all but disappeared.”
Christian’s eyes widened slightly in interest. “Is that so? He did not mention having had help.”
Lamidor smiled slightly and the prince seemed to ease back a little. “I was the one that found him my prince; I was the one that personally delivered him to the city.”
“You must have some skill as a tracker. Tell me something, when you found my half-blood whose company was he in?”
The tracker thought back to the day he had first found Tate. “He was travelling with two gypsies my prince. Young men, brothers I think.”
“And what did you do to these young men in order to obtain my new squire?”
The trackers eyebrows rose slightly at the title. “Nothing my lord, your, err, squire left them. They had an argument I believe.”
“Really?” Christian asked, smiling sweetly. He gestured Lamidor closer. “Tell me more.”
The world fell away beneath him, melting into nothingness as the clouds rushed down to embrace him. Cool tendrils of air caressed his skin, soothing and urging him closer towards the stars. A sense of freedom filled him unlike any he had ever known. Up among the heavens in a realm where mortals were forbade from entering he felt at peace for the first time in his young life.
But he was also a trespasser, a man spying on things he had no right to see. A part of him rebelled at kaçak casino what he was doing. It demanded he leave this unique world behind and return to the place of his birth. He stretched his arms above his head, increasing the speed of his fall as he swept back down towards the earth.
“Why so eager to return among the mortals?” a silvery voice asked beside him, startling him so violently that he lost control of the fall. “Pull up,” The voice commanded sternly; coming from all directions though there was no one near him. “Pull up child,” The voice said, gentler this time as he felt an invisible hold on his wrists. He took control of the fall.
“Who are you?” The invisible one asked in awe, the voice more controlled than before. “Are you one of the fallen?”
Who were the fallen? He wanted to ask but as he touched the earth instant chains rose up from the ground to seize him. They wrapped around his shins and snaked their way up his thighs and waist. He choked of a scream of terror as the chains twisted around his chest, squeezing the air from his lungs. It was only a dream, he told himself desperately. If he concentrated he would wake. But as the chains wrapped over his mouth and nose, cutting of the last of his air, he gave way to his terror and began to thrash and struggle. It crept further over him, over his eyes and head until he was cocooned within.
“Tate?” A familiar voice said softly in his ear. The half- blood turned reluctantly from his supper and met Tanis’s uncertain expression. “Are you alright?”
Tate resisted the urge to laugh in the young man’s face. He was hardly alright. As if his waking hours weren’t filled with enough misery now his nights were being plagued with nightmares. He noticed the prince’s expression was resting on his bruised wrists and felt a flush of heat suffuse his face. He quickly hid his hands beneath the table and pulled his sleeves forward. A part of him reasoned that there was nothing to be ashamed of. There was little he could do about Christian’s rough handling. Yet the part of him that was still his father’s son rallied at the idea that he was allowing another man to so publicly hurt him. “I’m fine.” He said, knowing his tone was blunt and unkind and not caring. “What do you want?”
“In truth I’m unsure how to begin.” He sat down without invitation, the naked sword at his waist reflecting the warm hearth fire. “I do want something from you but I doubt you’ll grant it me.”
“What in the world could I give you that you do not already have?” Tate demanded quietly, carefully keeping his eyes firmly on his stew.
“Forgiveness?” The young man whispered, his tone so sincere and vulnerable that for the first time in months Tate could feel a wall breaking down. He dared to meet the other man’s gaze and a feeling other than anger, fear and humiliation filled him.
“You brought me here.” Tate said quietly. “Though I fail to understand why? You and your brother do not strike me as particularly close.”
Tanis’s eyes casually searched the surrounding hall before he lowered his head. “He would have killed me. He said so himself. Brining you back brought me a little more time. Do you think me very cowardly?”
“I think I may be the wrong person to ask about cowardice.” Tate said bitterly. He meet the prince’s gaze straight on. “For all the hurt I’ve caused I suppose I deserve this place. Regardless of your involvement I would have been brought back here anyway.” Tate took a deep breath and dared to smile. “You are forgiven prince.”
Tanis smiled back at him, a huge beaming smile that made him look totally unlike Christian in every way. He stood up abruptly, the smile still firmly in place. “I should go before people start talking.”
Tate acknowledged him with a slight bob of his head and turned back to his meal. Despite himself it felt good to forgive someone. Maybe, someday if he ever saw Lukas again, the other man might find it in his heart to forgive Tate for harm he had caused.
“Something wrong?” Christian asked, falling into step beside Tate and draping his arm over the half-blood’s shoulders. “You haven’t spoken to me for days you know. When I said I wanted respect I didn’t mean I wanted you to turn into a mindless drone.”
“I didn’t realise I was.” Tate said, struggling to keep his tone neutral. “What would you like to talk about?”
“You were speaking to Tanis earlier. Why don’t you tell me about that?”
Tate shrugged his shoulders slightly. “There isn’t much to tell. We were just exchanging pleasantries.”
“How lovely for you.” Christian drawled tartly. “Tell me Tate, what you think of my little brother?”
“I know very little of him.” Tate said truthfully. An uncomfortable silence passed between them. “He seems decent enough I suppose.”
Christian’s sudden roar of laughter startled a good deal of people around them but none more so than Tate. “Decent, decent he says! By the god’s Tate, you’re a forgiving little fool aren’t you? He’s the reason you’re here after all.”
“I would have been here regardless of Tanis’s involvement.” Tate said, growing increasingly uncomfortable as a dozen pair of eyes watched them.