“I’m going to tell you about Ganymene and Melchior,” Luca tells Asher.
Asher rolls his eyes. His voice is hoarse and cracked with pain. “Everyone knows that story.”
Luca shakes his head. “Whores tell it different.”
“I’m not a whore,” comes the immediate response.
Luca does him the kindness of not answering. Tight-lipped, he wrings the bloody rag out in the water-basin. Asher’s thighs are laddered with welts, swollen and seeping red. When Luca daubs the welts with cooling salve Asher buries his head in the pallet not to scream.
“Shh, shh,” Luca whispers. He strokes Asher’s back until the shudders subside. “Breathe through it.”
“I’m fine,” Asher grinds out. “Just tell the damn story.”
“Back in the days when the gods walked with men, there was a prince so beautiful that he cast his father’s kingdom into chaos. All of the lords wanted him in their beds and his father got no peace. Night and day he had lords coming to him, offering anything from land to money to their daughters’ virginity for a night with Ganymene. The king didn’t know what to do. If he gave his son to one lord, all the others would be jealous. If he gave his son to all the lords, he’d be no better than a common whoremaster. The king was so pestered and so distracted that he came to hate his son. So he banished Ganymene from his kingdom forever.
“Heartbroken, Ganymene travelled the countryside. But he wasn’t safe there either. Men wouldn’t leave him alone. Sometimes they’d pretend to be kind. Sometimes they’d just hold him down. Either way, they only wanted one thing. Men only ever want one thing.
“Ganymene was clever and he always got away, but he came to fear men like a hart fears the hunter. So like the hart he fled deep, deep into the woods, so deep no men could find him. Finally, when he was too exhausted to flee anymore, he collapsed and slept for a long time.
“A satyr found him there. They lived in the woods in those days, before all the trees were cut down for the king’s navy. You still have to be careful walking in the woods at night, if you’re a boy, and you’re pretty. The satyr saw Ganymene there on the ground, beautiful as the sun, and his cock stood up hard between his thighs. He reached out a hairy hand for Ganymene, but the the prince stirred, waking. The satyr ran to hide behind a tree.
“Ganymene rose from sleep and began to dance. He danced so beautifully that the satyr couldn’t resist him anymore. Ganymene had been warned about satyrs, and what they do to you if you’re a boy, and you’re pretty. He ran from the satyr, but he couldn’t run fast enough. The satyr caught him and held him fast.
“It happens that this wood belonged to the god Melchior. It was where he hunted with his three great hounds, the ones who chase the moon across the sky. There was an altar to Melchior in the clearing where the satyr chased the prince. The satyr held Ganymene down upon the altar and raped him there in the clearing of the god.”
“Why’d Ganymene let the satyr do it?” Asher broke in. “Him a prince and everything. Why’d he let himself get fucked?”
“He didn’t have any choice.”
“Did he fight?”
“Hard as he could.”
“Did the satyr hurt him?”
“Until he couldn’t fight anymore.”
“Why couldn’t the satyr just leave him alone?” Asher demands, voice shaking. “Why’d he have to do those things? To hurt Ganymene?”
“Because he wanted to,” Luca says. “Because he could.”
“Godsdamn satyrs,” Asher chokes out. “Evil bastards.”
Luca smoothes Asher’s hair away from his sweaty temples. “Do you want me to go on?”
It takes a moment, but Asher nods.
“The gods know everything that happens in the places that are holy to them. Melchior saw what was being done on the altar, his sacred altar in his sacred woods, and he grew very angry. He wanted to strike down the prince and the satyr where they stood. Any other god would have. But Melchior is the god of justice. He rules patiently. So instead of smiting the prince and the satyr, Melchior climbed down from his silver throne and took up his silver sword and came to the sacred clearing where his altar was being defiled. There he saw the satyr, ugly and horrible, rutting on Ganymene, beautiful as the sun. It angered him to see such a low creature taking the prince’s virginity. He waved his silver sword and roared loud enough to shake the heavens. The satyr was a coward, like all satyrs, and seeing the god so furious he ran far, far away and was never seen in those woods again.
“Ganymene cowered before the god. He was naked and stank of the satyr’s filth, but Melchior still wanted him. He laid Ganymene down again upon the altar and raped him gently. Once he had finished he wrapped Ganymene in his cloak of night sky and took him back to the realms of the gods. Melchior worked a spell so that Ganymene would never die and never age, but stay young and beautiful forever. And that’s where Ganymene is still. Waiting on the pleasure of the god.”
It wasn’t the length of the Beast’s cock, Luca decided mid-fuck, or the girth either, but the way he used it. Take how he fucked Luca’s mouth. Luca hadn’t had a gag reflex since he was nine. He could have deep-throated even that length without damaging himself. But the Beast hadn’t given him a chance, ramming in and plowing Luca’s gullet until he was swallowing his own blood along with the Beast’s semen. While Luca was still coughing and trying to suck down as much air as he could between coughs, the Beast walked around the altar, stroking his cock back to stiffness, and wrenched Luca’s legs apart. Luca couldn’t bite back the cry that left him as the Beast entered him a second time. When the Beast started to thrust Luca tossed his head and gnawed his lips and tried to think of the Beast in the pair of voluminous underthings he’d seen fluttering from Mrs. Carpenter’s washline. It didn’t help.
Instead Luca thought of the new book. That did help, a little. Lately Sark had been bringing him histories. Mostly they were dreadfully dull, long droning recitations of battles won and lost, fortresses sieged, treaties signed. The best parts were when the writers talked about the lives of the kings. The writers were always very careful only to say good things about the kings, so Luca had to fill in the details in his head. It was all there between the lines if you looked for it. The wife of King Averus the Peacemaker, childless for twenty years until the handsome Saxam ambassador came to court? Luca knew that he was stupid, but even he could see that the queen and the ambassador were fucking behind the king’s back. Secret meetings in shadowy chambers, trysts in the king’s own bed….The ambassador had probably given the queen some token of his to wear, a garter still warm from his thigh perhaps, and after the ambassador returned to Saxamy she’d kissed and cried over it, remembering how she’d slipped it from his leg herself and worn it round her wrist, quick to her pulse. A son had been born nine months to the day of his departure, with a Northman’s towsy yellow hair. Had the king been angry? Luca imagined him towering in a rage. But what was he to do? Have the boy thrown over the castle turret? The king needed an heir, after all, and even his wife’s bastard would have to do. A sorry situation indeed. Luca imagined the king a host of pretty mistresses to make up for it.
Luca was yanked back to the present by the Beast’s teeth tearing at his earlobe.
“Where’s your head at, bitch?” the Beast hissed through a mouthful of flesh. His fingers found Luca’s nipple, twisted hard enough to leave him breathless. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were thinking of something other than my cock in your worthless cunt.”
“No,” Luca gasped, grinding frantically back on the man’s cock. “No, swear, only, only thinking of you, sir. You fucking my worthless cunt.”
The Beast dug a fingernail into the bruised circle of Luca’s tit. His head came up, mouth opening in a swallowed scream.
“Don’t know if I believe that,” the Beast said conversationally. He slowed his strokes, thrusting unhurried and deliberate as he pulped Luca’s nipple between his fingers. “Think you might have forgotten whose bitch you are.”
“I’m your bitch,” Luca said immediately. “I – ah – I belong on my kn-knees with your – ah! – your c-cock in my arse—please, sir, take me, fuck me hard – please! – please, I, I deserve it—”
“Oh, you do, do you?”
“I – no—” Luca cursed inwardly. “I don’t deserve it, sir – not yet – let me, let me earn it, earn your cum in my hole—”
“Your slutty, filthy hole,” the Beast prompted.
“My slutty, filthy hole,” Luca repeated, hating him. “Which only – ah! – exists for you to use.”
“Better.” The Beast let go of his nipple. Luca collapsed onto his elbows, dizzy with relief. “Master would’ve loved to hear that. Will have to tell him, later. He’ll ask.”
Luca gritted his teeth and glared down at the stone beneath him. Oh, the Pig would ask, would want every bloody detail recounted for him to rub his poxy stub of a yard to, like he was no doubt doing right now, somewhere in the audience, imagining what his slave would relate to him after the show…
Then the Beast’s hand was between Luca’s legs again, cupping his prick, and Luca didn’t think of the Pig anymore, only of that hand and what it might do.
“Master likes to watch,” the Beast murmured, breath hot in Luca’s bloodied ear.
Luca closed his eyes. “I know.”
“Can’t do much else, mind. Not with what he’s got.” The Beast’s thrusts slowed even more until he was barely moving. Each thrust pushed Luca’s pelvis forward, pressing his prick against the Beast’s hand. “Can’t fuck you himself. That’s why he’s got me. I’m his cock, see.” On the word ‘cock’ the Beast squeezed, only a little, only enough to make Luca shiver. He stilled his hips, balls flush against Luca’s crack. “Go on. Fuck yourself on it like a good little bitch.”
Luca obeyed. It felt like sawing himself in half. The oil Bagoas had prepared him with so meticulously was long gone, and all Luca had for lubricant was the Beast’s spending and a little of his own blood. It hurt. It hurt in a dull, bruised way when he pushed back against the Beast’s crotch and burned raw and aching when he pulled forward. Luca gritted his teeth and closed his eyes and thought of the Saxam ambassador. Tall, he’d be, and muscled from all that riding and fighting. He’d smell good, clean, like soap, with just a hint of fresh sweat, and when he smiled one corner of his mouth would quirk up, and his eyes would go bright and soft and kind…
Suddenly, the stage-light shifted. The god had arrived. Luca went weak with relief.
The Beast pulled out of Luca, leaving him to slump over his elbows on the altar, all his limbs shaking and his arse feeling blessedly empty. He did a quick mental inventory and found himself bruised and exhausted but whole. There was a roar of laughter from the audience. Luca forced himself to roll over and up onto his knees.
A strange sight greeted him. Melchior, masked and robed in silver, was waving his sword around in front of him like a blind man’s cane. The Beast advanced, cock in hand and face split with a wide grin. Melchior struck—the Beast made a grab for the wooden sword—but by then it wasn’t where it had been, and the blade went crashing down against the Beast’s side.
Usually the patrons who fought as Melchior were gentlemen with soft hands who’d only dare to play the warrior in pantos. They quaked and cowered before the Beast and could never bring themselves to do more than poke the sword in his general direction. Not this patron. His confusion must have been an act, and a clever one. He was quick as a dancer on his feet, wielding the sword with practiced grace. Luca remembered a story he’d read once about men in Iberia who fought bulls armed with nothing but a red cape and a lance. The Beast certainly looked like a bull, rearing up with those horns on his head. And Melchior was brave as a matador, not so much as flinching when the Beast swatted at him. He dealt the Beast a thump about the pate that knocked him to the ground and gave him a sound kick to the arse as he scrambled offstage. Luca bit his cheek to stifle a giggle. Apparently Melchior had a sense of justice as well as a sense of humor.
When Melchior turned to face him the laugh in Luca’s throat turned into a choked gasp. Lady, it was the redhaired man! Luca knew him even under the god’s half-mask by the ink on his sleeve. Not just a scholar, then, but a prince of the blood. Luca almost laughed, though it was hardly funny. The lord stood, swaying, eyes a shadow. Luca held out his hand.
Melchior dropped his sword. He stumbled toward Luca like a drunk. His hand was calloused, not like a lord’s. Like a warrior’s, maybe. Unthinking, Luca twined his fingers with Melchior’s and pulled him closer.
The god tumbled forward, bearing Luca down on the altar. His body was hard, sharp, all muscles and angles. The silver robe flowed loose about his shoulders. His shirt was undone; Luca could see dark nipples cresting over the neck of it. His breath stank like a distillery, but beneath that was the clean soap-and-sweat smell Luca had imagined for the Saxam ambassador.
When Melchior kissed his throat, Luca lost his breath.
Melchior lifted his head and gazed down at Luca. His eyes…ah, Lady, his eyes were grey as storm, and warm, and somehow puzzled, as though Luca were something he couldn’t quite figure out.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
His voice was thick with booze and smoke and edged with silver’s slurring, but those words—Luca had heard them before, of course, but never said like that…except …
No. He bit his lip, hard, to remind himself. Stupid whore. Still, he couldn’t keep himself from raising a hand, shivering at his own daring, to touch the god’s rough cheek.
Melchior caught his hand and kissed him, palm and arm and shoulder. He brushed his mouth against the juncture of Luca’s neck and jaw, but, teasing, didn’t stray upward to his lips—lips which Luca would never would have admitted to parting despite himself. He felt hot and dumb and his skin burned when the lord’s lips had met it. Lady, what was wrong with him? Was it the god, like Bagoas had said? Had he been possessed or something? Or perhaps this lord was one of those demons they told stories about, who crawled into the beds of virgins and made them ache between their thighs…
Melchior drew back, long hair tickling Luca’s chest. He was a dark shape against the stage-lights. Luca looked up into Melchior’s shadowed face, wondering if he really were a demon. Would it be all right to feel so fevered, for a demon?
But surely a demon’s voice would be all smooth and dark and mirthful, not nervous like the lord’s when he leaned forward, so serious, and whispered, “I’m going to kiss you now.”
The taste of him—it was cigarettes and wine and yesterday’s hangover, singed around the edges with the clean tang of silver. And his hands, his hands were so gentle as they cupped Luca’s face, but the kiss, Lady, he kissed urgently, as though Luca were the only thing to keep him alive.
Then, suddenly, he pulled away. Luca blinked groggily. He felt rather like he’d just woken up from a very pleasant dream. Why did the lord stop? Was there a fire or something? Had someone died?
The lord reached down and Luca wet his lips expectantly. But instead of taking Luca’s face in his hands again, he took hold of Ganymene’s mask and, roughly, ripped it away. Luca heard it clatter on the floor. He went still, as he had learned to do when men became angry at him. And the lord was angry. Gods, his face—Luca had never seen anyone so wracked and contorted with speechless rage before, white and shaking and forming soundless words. Luca braced himself for the blow.
But no blow came. Instead Melchior backed away and, stumbling over himself with haste, ran from the room. Luca was left alone on the stage.