Rumor

by Kuruki (来木)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/102589.html)

Phoibos refrained from patting the letter tucked inside his doublet. The message, coded of course, proved Lord Nereus guilty of treason. But even knowing the man was conspiring did not mean much. Nereus was rich, powerful, untouchable. Without reliable witnesses willing to rat Nereus out, he would continue his position as Lord Chamberlain, the post his family had held for six generations. His son would be the seventh.

Traffic snarled ahead and Phoibos’s horse slowed. Giorgos stood in his stirrups. “Make way, make way. Lord Phoibos coming through.”

The crowd parted like water before him. Phoibos stifled his grin. Lord Phoibos couldn’t be seen taking pleasure in anything. He didn’t turn to see if his friends were following him. He had a reputation to uphold. He made his way easily for nearly a block, but here the crowd was thicker. Giorgos yelled make way, again evoking Phoibos’s name. A peasant looked up and blanched, pushing against his neighbor and nearly falling in his haste to get away.

The cause of the snarl became apparent a few steps later when Phoibos came upon an abandoned cart. The driver was swearing at a weeping woman who sat beside his ox, holding a child covered in blood.

“What’s this?” asked Dryas. He was rumored to be the nicest of the group and therefore the only one who would care.

The driver started lambasting the dying child. Phoibos waved his hand and the man swallowed the rest of his words. “Giorgos, clean this up.”

Phoibos’s friends jumped into action. In short order, the child was being attended to by a surgeon in the comfort of a merchant’s parlor. The woman held a purse with more money in it than she could have ever seen in her life plus instructions to watch her child more closely hereafter. And the driver was reprimanded for his lack of vigilance. “If you ever slow my progress in such a way again, I will have you killed,” Phoibos said then rested his hand on his sword hilt. “I might even do it myself.”

The driver paled, but Phoibos was already on his way. He could hear the rumors spreading and see the people run from one group to another, adding to the tale. Phoibos allowed himself a smirk. He didn’t have to do horrible things if rumor would do the job for him. When he returned to his palace, he would discover if he beheaded the driver, ran him through, or something even crueler. No one would remember what happened to the woman or the child.

///

Phoibos sat at his desk, idly arranging the shirt puffs on his forearm. Two weeks ago, Nereus had obtained a diagram of Tyche’s sewer system. Why did he want it? Would he sell it? Or show it to the enemy? Why? As Lord Chamberlain, he was second only to King Linos. What would selling out his city get him that he didn’t already have?

The king had left this problem in Phoibos’s hands. He placed his trust in him. Phoibos wasn’t only a friend of Dryas, King Linos’s cousin, but he was also the only son and heir of the Archchancellor, a man with nearly as much power as the Lord Chamberlain. King Linos was the reason that Phoibos maintained his persona when he left home. His king thought that a loyal man known to be cruel would be an asset to his reign, and he’d used Phoibos many times to coax information from reluctant witnesses. One glance at his merciless face caused many men to break.

Phoibos had learned to keep his emotions off his face when he was very young. His mother had come to his father full of hopes, but the man had slowly taken away all her joy, even killing her childhood friend during a visit, saying that he mistook the friend for a burglar. By the time Phoibos had been old enough to remember, she was treating him coldly in public, spewing venomous words about her only child even when she hadn’t been angry. But once the maids had been sent away, she would pull him onto her lap, cover his face with kisses, and fill his head with words of love. His father was the opposite. He had petted Phoibos’s head and bragged about him to his peers, but in private his words were harsher.

As a child, Phoibos had practiced arrogant expressions. He never let anyone see that words could hurt him, not even in private. His mother had praised him for his superior mien; she said that it would protect his heart. One of his father’s few private words of approval had been for Phoibos’s lofty expression. Another had been for his pride, after he threw the son of one of his father’s peers from a second story window. Phoibos had been fifteen at the time and walked into the room as the other boy was lifting a crying maid’s skirts. No one else had arrived until after the crash and thump, and by that time the girl had been safely away. When the adults had asked him why he did it, Phoibos had been unapologetic and had given no explanation. Dryas had come to him later, saying that the maid was well. Since then, the two had been friends, but even rumor could not say the reason.

A knock sounded at the door. Giorgos and Dryas enter before Phoibos had risen to his feet. Giorgos’s eyes shone and pink spots stood out on his cheeks. “I’ve found something that can help us,” he said as soon as the door was safely closed again. “I’ve found Nereus’s mistress, the mother of his son.”

Dryas clapped him on the back. “I was beginning to think that boy was just a rumor.”

“But,” said Phoibos, “what good will she do us? What does she know?”

“Rumor says, everything.”

“Rumor says, I skinned the cart driver alive then set his head on a pike.” Phoibos was tired of lies. The truth was elusive and reaching for it brought it no closer. “Did the child live?”

Dryas nodded. “The boy’s doing fine. His young mother impressed the widower they are staying with, and he plans to wed her.”

“See,” said Giorgos. “I told you giving her the entire purse was a waste of money.”

Phoibos raised an eyebrow. “More than your new doublet?”

“Fashion,” Giorgos said, running his hands down his sides, “is never a waste of money.”

The three friends laughed. Giorgos always wore the latest thing, which today meant a bright orange tabard barely long enough to cover his groin and laced tightly at the sides from his underarm to waist, but open below, exposing his hips with each movement. Under that was a red doublet, the top of the sleeves puffed out bigger than his head, with his shirt pulled through the multiple slits on the forearms. His legs were clad in mismatched hose, one black and white diagonal plaid and the other deep green. The green wasn’t a bad color. Phoibos had a pair of his own, but he wore his hose sewn together up the back with a stiff flap in the front. His tabard was long enough that the flap wasn’t necessary, but the extra fabric made his well proportioned assets look considerably larger, and Lord Phoibos was a conceited bastard.

Giorgos’s hose, normally skin tight, were baggy at his knees and hips. Who had he loosened his breeches for this time? Maybe that’s why he still wore his hose unfashionably separate. Easier access.

A gentle tap on the door preceded a servant with a letter. “Lord Soterios desires a reply at your earliest convenience.”

That meant that the messenger was waiting in the kitchen, eating a light meal. Rumor said that Lord Phoibos didn’t know about this hospitality, but Phoibos couldn’t reconcile this with the rumor that Lord Phoibos controlled all he owned – from the arrangement of the furniture in each room to the farmers who grew his wool, silk, and linen – and knew everything from the number of olives in his store rooms to the bad habits of his youngest page.

As the servant left, Phoibos grabbed his seal from its bowl of water and tossed it to Giorgos. Years ago, Phoibos had been out of sealing wax, and Lord Phoibos would never stoop to using candle wax, so he’d heated his seal in the fire and burned his mark onto a letter. Quite accidentally, it had become his trademark. Rumor said that several people walking around bore Lord Phoibos’s mark, people he’d claimed as he own.

Phoibos peeled off the wax to open Soterios’s letter. Soterios was yet again begging Lord Phoibos to attend his party. The party was in three days and the city might already be in ruins if Giorgos’s newest lead went nowhere, but Phoibos wrote in his most arrogant scrawl that he was considering attending. That was as close to saying he would be there as he got; he never attended any party – no matter how much gilt on his invitation – if the host did not write to him at least once, begging for his company. Much to Phoibos’ amazement, they always did, and many followed the letters with a visit. No party was complete without him.

Giorgos passed back the seal on the end of the poker. Phoibos slipped on his heavy leather gloves, then unhooked the seal, careful to touch only the steaming wooden top. The paper smoldered under the design that was raised rather than engraved, and so left perfect line art like a woodcut. Phoibos dropped the hot metal into the stone bowl where he kept it. The seal hit the water with a hiss.

Waving the letter to cool it, Phoibos looked at Giorgos. “You know who she is, but do you know where she is?”

“I know her name, where she lives, and that she will be home tonight.”

///

Adonis hid under the bed when he heard footsteps on the stairs. These would be men visiting his mother. They had come more often recently to be reassured that the Lord Chamberlain was not going to betray them. The assurances started with words, but almost always ended up in the bed, sometimes with men waiting by the hearth for their turn. Adonis and his mother shared one room, so he had nowhere to go when the men came. Inside the wardrobe was much more comfortable than the floor under the bed, especially if his mother was going to use it, but she had just bought two new gowns and he could no longer fit inside.

He hated when the men came, but he would rather they come in groups. Sometimes the men who came alone stayed all night and Adonis was stuck under the bed until morning. He couldn’t even use the chamber pot. His mother insisted he not be seen. Only other people in the building knew he existed at all. Aunty and Uncle, who had lived across the hall—Adonis never learned their names— had taken care of him until last year. Uncle had taught him to read, told him stories, and snuck Adonis outside on nights his mother wasn’t home. But since Aunty had died and Uncle had moved away, Adonis had been alone and too scared of his mother’s wrath to go further than the building’s roof or front door.

Only once had Adonis’s mother taken him anywhere and that was to an artist where he was dressed in fine clothes to be painted, but then he’d had to give those clothes back. He hadn’t had new clothes since Aunty died. The ones he wore today were too small and very ragged. He was dressed worse than the boys who begged for coins outside, but his mother said there was no money for better ones. Aunty had said the Lord Chamberlain was a rich man. If Nereus was his father, as his mother insisted Nereus was, then why could she only afford new clothes for herself? At fifteen, Adonis did not need a nurse anymore, but why didn’t he get a new tutor after Uncle left? All the children in his books had tutors.

In fact the books were his only link with his father at all. His mother would come home with her cheeks flushed and her stomach full, sometimes after being gone for days, and she would hand over a book from his father. Some books were about people and some were studies of things like fish or plants, but they never made up for the hours alone. And what was the point of studying something he might never see? The only fish he saw were the ones they ate for dinner, but at least they still looked like fish. Ham did not look like a boar in the least. And since Aunty died, Adonis hadn’t seen a flower or a living plant, save the ones that grew between the stones on the street outside. He couldn’t even remember what a rose smelled like.

The men knocked. His mother rose from the chair before the hearth. She counted under her breath as she walked to the door. She never wanted to seem rushed, even if she’d just been busy cleaning. She said that acting like a lady made her feel like one. She opened the door with a genteel hello, but the rest of her greeting was drowned out by the men entering as if they owned the place.

Adonis froze. He slowly pushed down on the sack in front of him, not daring to breathe. A pair of men’s feet stood by the now closed door, and two other pairs were near his mother’s skirts. One man said, “Lord Phoibos would like a word with you.”

Lord Phoibos was his mother’s enemy. He was the man trying to stop the Lord Chamberlain from reigning over Tyche with Adonis’s mother as his queen. Lord Phoibos was the man that most visitors were worried about, the reason they came for reassurance. The visitors often told of his deeds, bragged that they would not fall to his torture, and whispered about people who wore his brand.

Lord Phoibos was always seen with two other men, Giorgos and Lord Dryas. If a person came to their attention, that person always hoped to be caught by Lord Dryas. He was gentle and quick to pull out his purse to ease a situation. If not Dryas, they hoped for Giorgos, who was coarse and boisterous and owned an army larger than most Houses’, but a man who ran from Giorgos could keep his pride. No one could run from Lord Phoibos. They might try, but they never got away. Anyone who displeased Lord Phoibos died in the most gruesome manner possible.

Adonis’s mother sat in the chair; from the scuffle and her muffled voice, she must have been forced down. The end of a rope hit the floor and snaked across it, disappearing around the chair. They were tying his mother up.

///

Phoibos took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The woman, Kallisto, wasn’t talking. She sat quietly in the chair. Nothing they said had moved her. She knew Nereus’s plans: he could tell by her posture, but she was also sure that they would never get it from her. He pulled Dryas aside. “What now?”

“Now,” said Dryas, his face bleak, “you become the Lord Phoibos that rumor speaks of. Remember, whatever happens is for Tyche, for our home and everyone in it. If you hurt her badly enough, no one will ever cross you again.”

Phoibos refrained from biting his lip. He could cut her skin, criss-crossing every inch of it until she told all she knew; or he could hit her, causing bruises bigger than his fist; or he could rape her with whatever was nearest at hand. All these things rumor said he’d done, fuelled perhaps by people who had confessed without torture once they knew he was the one who wanted the information. But he had never had to do anything before. Rumor had always been enough.

He had to do it though because he loved his land, his people, and his king. He turned to her, his face hardening into his most Lord Phoibos expression. “You will rue the day that you didn’t give up without a fight.”

“Never,” she said. She didn’t even raise her voice, like she didn’t need anyone’s help, or maybe want it.

Phoibos looked about the tiny room, his eyes resting on the wardrobe. “Dryas. Search this place.”

“No!” Kallisto’s voice rose in anguish for the first time. Phoibos smiled his cruelest smile and watched the woman pale. What did she have hidden here? Or rather, whom?

Dryas searched the wardrobe, tossing silk gowns left and right. The woman even had cloth of gold, as if she were a bride. Dryas then got to his knees and tossed a sack away from the bed. Kallisto gasp as Dryas reached under the bed and pulled out a boy. This couldn’t be Nereus’s son; the child was dressed in rags so old they had lost their color. But the boy ran to Kallisto and fell to his knees at her feet. “Mother.”

The boy’s face hardened as he stared at Dryas and Giorgos. Giorgos said, “This is Lord Phoibos and your mother has something he wants.”

The child got to his feet. He tipped his head, looking into Phoibos’s eyes. The boy caught his breath. His cheeks flushed under Phoibos’s gaze. He was really a very pretty child. Who would have thought Nereus capable for producing such beauty? Phoibos rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Are you the son I’ve heard tell of? Nereus’s precious boy?”

“Adonis, no!” Kallisto cried.

Adonis was Kallisto’s weakness. Now Phoibos only needed to decide how to use him against her. Regardless of what rumor said, Phoibos knew he really didn’t have the creativity to be a good torturer. But Adonis was beautiful. It wouldn’t be that hard to touch him, or pretend to touch him. No loving mother would want that for her son.

The boy lunged for his mother, but Phoibos’s hand held him back. He lifted Adonis, who was surprisingly light, and sat on the bed with the boy straddling his lap. “Nereus’s son.” he said, caressing the rough wool of the boy’s tabard. “I would think he would dress his heir better. If you were mine, I’d dress you like a prince.”

“Don’t fall for it, Adonis,” Kallisto said, her voice back under control. “Your father loves you.”

“And that,” said Phoibos, moving his hand to Adonis’s cheek, “is why he’s here protecting you, isn’t that right my young Adonis?”

The boy’s eyes showed fear, but also something else. His body was relaxing in Phoibos’s arms. Phoibos lifted Adonis’s chin and pressed his lips against the boy’s then spread them with his tongue. He gently took possession of the small mouth. Adonis clutched Phoibos’s arm with both hands and did not pull away until Kallisto yelled, “Don’t let him touch you! You are better than that.”

The child struggled for a moment. Phoibos loosened his grip, but didn’t let him get away. Adonis soon gave up, panting heavily. How much of the breathlessness was caused by the struggle and how much by the kiss? The boy was hard; Phoibos could feel it against his leg.

///

Adonis wanted to cry. He had nearly betrayed his mother to her enemy. That her enemy was tall and handsome was no excuse. Neither were his dark eyes or his expression that Adonis hoped meant the man liked what he saw. Nor was his gentle, persistent kiss that made Adonis want to grab hold of him and never let go.

The man’s grip on Adonis was firm but not tight. Adonis closed his eyes against the man’s hungry gaze and tried to catch his breath. The room smelled of the men or perhaps just this man, Phoibos, whose glance made Adonis’s skin tingle. Why did he have to be the enemy?

Dryas, the one who pulled Adonis from under the bed, stood above his mother. “What does Nereus plan?”

Adonis could answer that, but he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t tell of the army marching under the city, the chaos they would create, the councilors Nereus owned, and the vote he would call to oust King Linos. Adonis would never betray his mother. He would see her queen. She sat quietly staring at the fire as if the men weren’t there. He would do the same. The next time the man bent to kiss him, he wouldn’t open his lips. No matter what the man said, no matter if he voiced Adonis’s secret doubts, no matter if he promised Adonis his heart’s desire.

Phoibos’s hand brushed the back of Adonis’s neck and then pulled him so close that their lips pressed together. Adonis kept his lips firmly closed even when the man’s warm tongue brushed them. He wouldn’t give in. He refused. Phoibos was the enemy. He would promise Adonis the world then cast him aside. Adonis was lifted and set on his back in the middle of the bed. He tried to scramble away, but made it only a few inches before the man pulled himself over Adonis’s legs, holding him down. Adonis pushed on Phoibos’s shoulders trying to get him off, but the man was far stronger. Adonis struggled, but couldn’t get away as his wrists were brought together and held fast in one of Phoibos’s large hands.

With his hands over his head, Adonis felt exposed. The man lifted his chest off Adonis’s legs, but only long enough to spread Adonis’s knees. Then Phoibos settled over Adonis with his hips between Adonis’s thighs and his belly against Adonis’s private parts. Adonis could barely breathe. The man wasn’t crushing him, but his scent filled Adonis’s lungs and clouded his brain, making his private part twitched under the steady pressure of the man’s weight. Phoibos ran his free hand down Adonis’s side. “Do you like that?” he purred. “Your body says you do.”

“No,” Adonis whispered, but it was drowned out by his mother as she shouted his name. If he didn’t give in she could have a room full of dresses and he wouldn’t have to sleep under anyone’s bed. Dryas repeated his questions. Who was Nereus working with? What did he hope to accomplish? What was he planning? Adonis’s mother said nothing.

Adonis watched Phoibos, keeping his breaths shallow, as the man’s mouth lowered over his. He felt a hand on his privates and gritted his teeth. The man rubbed him gently, but relentlessly and Adonis’s lungs heated to the point he had to gasp for breath. Phoibos slid his tongue into Adonis’s mouth. Adonis shook his head, but the man held him fast. Adonis needed air. His lungs were too hot and so was his groin. His private part was stiff and achy. He wanted Phoibos to leave and never return. He needed Phoibos to touch him forever, but that would never happen. Phoibos was the enemy. A tear dripped into his ear.

Phoibos pulled back and as Adonis gasped for breath, he leaned down and licked the tear way. “Adonis, my beautiful boy. Let me hear your voice. Cry out, little one, and this is as much as I ever touch you.”

“Never,” Adonis said. See, Phoibos didn’t really want to touch him. He was only trying to get Adonis’s mother to talk. Then Adonis would be cast aside. Phoibos couldn’t be trusted. If only Adonis’s body would understand Phoibos was the enemy. Adonis could never betray his mother the way his body was betraying him. Adonis felt tugging at his side; Phoibos was unknotting the lacing of his tabard. Why? The man didn’t mean to take him, did he? The way in that one book the man took a woman until she screamed his name in pleasure?

That hollow feeling in his gut was fear, wasn’t it?

///

Phoibos glanced back at Dryas, who shook his head. Kallisto still refused to talk. Lives depended on her information. Phoibos pulled the lacing from the left side of Adonis’s tabard. “If you were mine, my Adonis, I would always be at your side. I would keep you safe. I would make you happy. If you were mine, you would wear the finest silk. Even your shirts would carry embroidery. I would take you everywhere with me. You would never be left behind.”

Phoibos pulled the boy’s hands against the headboard and tied his wrists there with the ribbon lacing. Adonis looked vulnerable, his eyes wide and mouth open as he panted. Phoibos leaned down and licked the boy’s palm. Adonis’s breath caught. He squirmed, which rubbed his body against Phoibos’s hardening rod. Phoibos licked again then sucked on the boy’s captive fingers and nibbled the fleshy part of his palm. Adonis’s breaths came faster and faster until he let out an angry groan.

Phoibos pulled back and looked at the boy’s face. He was weeping. Phoibos glanced back at his friends. Dryas had taken up the position by the door. Giorgos was standing behind Kallisto’s chair which he had turned so she faced the bed. Phoibos met her eye, but she turned away. Giorgos turned her head back with a hand on each cheek. “What a good mother you are. See how you protect your one and only child.”

Adonis bucked under Phoibos. The boy was in want of attention. Phoibos bent to his wet face and licked away the tears. “My beautiful Adonis, should I make you mine? Your parents don’t treat you well. I will treat you better.”

Phoibos ran his hand down Adonis’s chest. The tabard was in the way. He lifted the boy’s hips with one arm, maneuvering the tabard over his head then pushed it up his arm. Phoibos could cut the tabard off later if it got in the way, but he didn’t want to pull his knife yet. Adonis’s doublet was laced to his hose at the waist, which meant that the hose were sewn up the back. Phoibos spread the unsewn front seam and stroked the boy’s hard rod though his thin breeches. Adonis moaned.

“See,” said Giorgos. “Your little Adonis is becoming his little Adonis. Once he is done, your son will never want to touch a woman or be touched by one. Once Lord Phoibos spills his seed inside the boy, Adonis will tolerate no touch but his.”

///

Adonis stiffened. He couldn’t let his body betray him again. He couldn’t make a sound, no matter what Phoibos did to him, no matter how bad it felt or how good. It shouldn’t feel good. It didn’t. That his body ached was a bad thing. That it felt both better and worse under Phoibos’s caresses was horrible. He couldn’t give in, not to his body, not to this man, his mother’s enemy.

Her enemy’s breath was hot against Adonis’s cheek as he licked Adonis’s tears away. Why was Phoibos—Lord Phoibos, who made men quake in their boots—why was Phoibos being so gentle with him? Other than being bound, his mother had received no hurts. And Adonis was still in one piece. Perhaps Phoibos was working up to whatever horrors he planned, but that was never the way the stories went. In every one Adonis had ever heard, each person was only given one opportunity to confess before the pain began.

His mother had used up her opportunity; what Phoibos was doing to Adonis was her pain. He couldn’t give in. His mother was all he had. If he didn’t give in to Phoibos’s touches, she would be queen. Nereus promised to marry her. They would live in a palace and eat fruit out of season and wear clothes as smooth as Phoibos’s and never be cold or lonely. If he betrayed her and Nereus’s plot failed, Nereus might be executed and no more money could come. Adonis and his mother would lose their one small room; she might even dump him at some street corner and then he would have no one.

Phoibos’s lips brushed his. Adonis struggled to move his mouth away. Phoibos held his face still and pressed his tongue between Adonis’s lips and Adonis was forced it let it inside. Phoibos’s tongue rubbed against his, drawing Adonis’s tongue—against his will—into Phoibos’s mouth where he sucked it as if Adonis’s tongue was the most delicious thing in the world. Adonis’s hips moved on their own, pushing against Phoibos’s waist. Phoibos delved his tongue back into Adonis’s mouth. Blood roared in Adonis’s ears as his body heated. He couldn’t get enough air. He could hear each inadequate breath he inhaled through his nose and bright spots floated before his eyes.

When Phoibos pulled away, Adonis lay still, drawing in huge, gasping breaths. He didn’t notice what Phoibos was doing until he heard his mother groan. The man was unlacing Adonis’s hose from his doublet. Adonis balled his hands into fists and bucked his hips. Phoibos’s hands slipped from the knot at Adonis’s side, but he’d already unknotted all the rest across Adonis’s front. Adonis was flipped over. He got to his knees, but Phoibos straddled his thighs, forcing him back onto the bed. He gasped and a sob escaped. “That’s the way,” Phoibos said, working on the next knot. “Let me hear your voice.”

Adonis’s mother groaned. Adonis couldn’t give in. Phoibos ran his hands up and down Adonis’s rump, pushing his thumbs deeper into the crack with each pass. Adonis fought not to rub against those hands. They felt so good on him. His skin yearned to be touched. His ears ached to be whispered into. His mouth longed to be kissed.

“I must get these pesky clothes out of the way.” Phoibos said. “They are not fit for you to wear. I should just cut them off.”

Fear gripped Adonis. Would Phoibos cut more than just the cloth? Adonis felt the tugs as the knife sliced through the knots. Next came the pull as the doublet was cut up the back and off his arms. The tabard’s shoulder seam was cut and it was tossed aside with the doublet as if they were so many rags. Then two huge hands ran up Adonis’s back and he knew the knife was put away. He couldn’t stop from relaxing or sighing in relief. Phoibos lay along his body and breathed against his ear. “You have a beautiful voice to match your beautiful body. I want to hear it every day of my life.”

“You are worse than useless,” Adonis’s mother shouted. “How can you let him touch you? Why aren’t you fighting? Where is your pride? Where is your dignity? Didn’t you want to live in a palace? Didn’t you want good food to eat, new clothes, a room of your own? You will never have that now. I want nothing to do with you, you useless, useless boy!”

“What did you say?” said Giorgos. “One slip, one mistake and you don’t love him anymore. That’s why you won’t talk. If you loved him, you would do anything to save him. Once he belongs to Lord Phoibos, nothing will ever hurt him. He will never let Adonis come to harm. He will never sit back and let it happen with a ready excuse and no apology. You are blaming your son when all you had to do was talk.”

“No, Adonis, no. I love you. Your father loves you. Only I can’t….”

“You would talk if you loved him,” said Giorgos. “If you loved him, you would have answered our questions before we found him. If you really cared, you would have kept him safe. But you only love yourself. Look at the gown and jewels you wear while your son wears rags. You care nothing for him, only what he can do for you.”

“You son of a whore!” screamed Adonis’s mother. “What do you know about love anyway? Who are you to say I do not love my son?”

Giorgos laughed. “You are right. I am the son of a whore. Phoibos saved me. If not for him, I would still be sold at parties for a night of pleasure. Your son could do worse than to be loved by such a man, but really, is this what you want for him? If he becomes Lord Phoibos’s, I can guarantee he will spend his life as the courtesan of this powerful man, paraded about at parties and clothed in cloth of gold. He will never take office or make policy or wed or father children. Is your dream for him that he warm a man’s bed?”

If Phoibos had saved Giorgos, did that mean he would save Adonis too, save him from his small, lonely world? Would he stay beside him and take him places and introduce him to people? What was a party like? What about a garden? Or the feel of the sun touching his whole body, not just his face? Did Phoibos have lots of books Adonis could read? Would he be allowed a tutor to tell him stories and show him maps? Or would Phoibos teach Adonis himself by taking him places and showing him things that Adonis had never even heard of?

Would Phoibos keep his word? Adonis shouldn’t give in until he was sure, and the only way to be sure was to wear Phoibos’s brand—a man could not fail to claim something that bore his mark. But Adonis couldn’t help but snuggle against the body above him and take comfort in how solid Phoibos felt, how immovable, like he would stay by Adonis forever as he had promised before, like Adonis was his. Phoibos kissed the back of Adonis’s neck before sitting up and turning Adonis over. Adonis’s breath caught under Phoibos’s gaze and his private part pulsed and ached more than before as Phoibos said, “My beautiful boy, my beautiful Adonis. I will make you mine tonight.”

///

Phoibos pushed Adonis’s shirt up, but decided against removing it. The linen was soft, although thin, and the air was cool. Phoibos leaned down and licked Adonis’s nipple. Adonis moaned and bucked gently, like he wanted more. That would be easy to give. Phoibos blocked out the sounds of the weeping woman and dedicated himself to the task at hand. Adonis looked older naked than he did clothed. His shoulders were broad and his waist thin. Puberty had come to visit if not to stay. Phoibos licked down every rib, calling forth quiet gasps and moans from Adonis.

He dipped his head below Adonis’s waist and tasted his rod though the thin linen of his breeches. Adonis arched his back and cried out. Kallisto shrieked. Adonis stiffened and Phoibos slid up to speak in his ear. “My Adonis, my love. You are mine, no one else’s. Every gasp, every pant, every moan makes you more mine. I will never let you go as long as I draw breath.”

Giorgos taunted Kallisto. “See how he likes it. He does not care who watches. His face is pink and his eyes glossy. He wants what Lord Phoibos is giving him. He wants it so much that he does not care that his mother is watching.”

Phoibos hated to take the boy under the gaze of others, but he could no longer deny that he was going to take him—his body, his heart—and keep him forever. From the moment he set eyes on Adonis, from the boy’s first blush, Adonis had been his. Whatever rumor would say, nothing could make Phoibos give him up now. Phoibos sat back and tugged Adonis’s breech belt loose. “I will fill you with so much pleasure that you will not be able to stop your voice. You shouldn’t even try.”

Adonis’s eyes were wide and dark, his mouth open slightly as he panted, and his tongue peeking from his lips as if begging for another kiss. How could anyone neglect so beautiful a boy? How could anywhere but a palace be worthy of him? How could anything less than silk brush his precious skin? Phoibos pulled Adonis’s hose and breeches off in one smooth movement and then bent between his knees, taking Adonis’s rod in hand. Phoibos gently licked the oozing tip then sucked on it to the rhythm of Adonis’s ragged breaths. He took the rod deeper into his mouth, producing louder gasps from Adonis.

“Nereus will be pleased with how you protected his boy,” Giorgos whispered, “He’s sure to shower you with silk and jewels. Perhaps he will buy you pearls like a proper bride.”

Phoibos looked up to see Adonis’s eyes on him. He must not have heard Giorgos—or Kallisto’s protests—over his fast, ragged breaths. Phoibos lifted his head and took the rod in hand, pulling the foreskin up and pushing it down as he said, “It’s okay. You can let go. I will be here for you. Tonight, tomorrow, forever, you will always be mine.”

Then he sucked Adonis’s rod back into his mouth and rubbed a thumb up Adonis’s crack. Adonis lifted his hips, thrusting his rod deeper into Phoibos’s mouth. Phoibos opened his throat as Adonis released himself in ecstasy.

///

Adonis lay panting, his limbs too heavy to move. He let his eyelids close. His mother screamed, “Worthless. Less than worthless. What kind of king would you make for Tyche now? You give your ass to the first man who asks for it. King Slut, Lord Whore! I regret I ever birthed you.”

His heart and body betrayed him and so he betrayed his mother. He should be in tears, but he was too tired to cry. He had no emotions at all, like he was waking from a dream. Phoibos lay beside him, brushing Adonis’s hair from his damp forehead and peppering his face with gentle kisses.

Giorgos laughed. “King Adonis? Is that what you wanted? No, don’t lie. Being the king’s mother isn’t enough for you. You are ambitious. You wish to be Queen Kallisto, but how could you be so naïve as to believe that once Nereus got the throne he’d offer you his hand? Women are simply a commodity for a man like him. Adonis now, he can’t be replaced, for he is the only one of Nereus’s widely scattered seeds to ever bear fruit.”

“That’s not true. Nereus loves me! He will marry me.”

“Keep saying that if it makes you feel better, but women fall over themselves to catch a powerful man. Many are willing to take Nereus even though rumor says he cannot beget children. His new wife will take him to bed every night in hopes of another miracle. And if a son is born, do not doubt for one moment that Adonis will be cast aside.”

“No!” Adonis’s mother shouted. “Nereus will never betray us. He loves us.”

“Now, now. No need to get upset, but tell me, does Nereus not know that you have other lovers?”

“They aren’t lovers. They are just men. Nereus’s allies. He has many. He sends them to me. Do you think he didn’t?”

Giorgos laughed again. “And you think that Nereus would marry the whore that strengthened his alliance with her body. How many men have you allowed to touch you for his cause? Who are you to be angry at your boy for giving his heart and body to a man who actually cares for him?”

Adonis looked up at Phoibos, who met his eye then kissed him gently. “If you want to come with me and be mine, let me hear your voice.”

///

Adonis moaned. It was loud and filled with pleasure. Phoibos ignored Kallisto’s groan as he laughed and, getting to his knees, straddled Adonis. He ran his hands up and down Adonis’s sides. Suddenly, Adonis’s eyes widened. Phoibos turned to see what was scared him. Giorgos stood beside the bed holding out a jar. Trust Giorgos to always have grease with him. When Phoibos took it, Giorgos went back to taunting Kallisto.

The surface of the lanolin was smooth. Good. This was a new jar or newly refilled. Giorgos was his friend, but there were some things Phoibos balked at sharing with him. Phoibos pushed two fingers into the soft lanolin and slipped them out. Adonis’s eyes were wide and he moaned as he watched. Phoibos’s rod pushed against his breeches. Adonis was a siren calling him and he could not resist. He rubbed his greasy fingers on Adonis’s rod, massaging gently. Adonis bent his knees, spreading them wide then lifted his hips, thrusting into Phoibos’s hand.

Adonis was so beautiful, gasping and thrusting and writhing. Phoibos wanted to watch him come like this but not right now. He needed to be inside Adonis and make him his. Phoibos removed his hand. He tried to ignore Adonis’s whimper as he got out a more generous portion of lanolin. He rubbed it up Adonis’s crack then using two fingers, Phoibos pressed another dollop against Adonis’s entrance. Adonis moaned in pleasure. Phoibos couldn’t help but echo it.

The entrance spread under pressure from his fingers. Adonis’s moan was long and turned to a gasp as Phoibos’s fingers wiggled inside. The tunnel was hot and tight. Phoibos froze as the need to come threatened to overwhelm him. He wouldn’t spill his seed until he was inside Adonis, until he could claim him in every way possible. Adonis panted and writhed as he pressed against Phoibos’s hand. Phoibos smiled and leaned down to kissed his lover. Adonis raised his head when Phoibos pulled away as if he never wanted Phoibos’s kiss to end. “You’re mine,” Phoibos whispered into Adonis’s mouth. “Now and always, you’re mine.”

“Good.” Adonis’s word turned to a gasp as Phoibos found the spot he’d heard about from Giorgos. He rubbed the bump and Adonis writhed. “No, please,” Adonis gasped. “I can’t… I need….”

Phoibos’s lover was calling; he needed to answer. He tugged his tabard and hose-flap up and his breeches down without even loosening his belt. He used both hands to slick himself quickly. Adonis’s gaze never left Phoibos’s rod, his pupils so large his eyes had no color. Adonis lifted his hips as Phoibos scooted forward until his thighs were under Adonis’s rump. “Now my love, call my name. When I hear my name on your lips, I’ll know you are where you want to be, with me forever.”

Then he sat up, thrusting his rod into Adonis’s welcoming tunnel. It was hot and tight and so inviting. “Phoibos,” Adonis moaned, his voice getting louder as Phoibos sunk deeper. “Phoibos.”

Adonis wrapped his legs around Phoibos’s hips and took in all of him. Phoibos was where he wanted to be, where he needed to be. He pulled back and thrust in, working up a rhythm. Their body heat and friction melted the lanolin, filling the air with its scent.

“Phoibos, Phoibos,” Adonis called with each thrust. “I need… I want… Phoibos!” With that last shout Adonis’s muscles spasmed around Phoibos and Phoibos could no longer contain his ecstasy. The rush hit him hard and he filled Adonis, his sweet Adonis, with his seed. Sweaty and breathing hard, he looked down at his beautiful lover. “You are mine. Now and forever.”

“Here,” said Giorgos, handing Phoibos his leather gloves. Phoibos quickly pulled out of Adonis, tugging Adonis’s shirt down to cover him, then slipped his rod back in his beeches before putting on the gloves. Why did Giorgos want him to wear them? What had happened while he was otherwise occupied? Dryas was asking Kallisto questions, but they were more specific. He seemed to know what was happening and even when, but not where. She wept and refused to answer. Giorgos held Phoibos’s seal on the end of a poker. When had he gotten that? When he handed Phoibos the lanolin? The seal’s wooden handle was smoking rather than steaming. What did Giorgos think he needed it for?

“You’re going to mark me as yours?” ask Adonis, sounding pleased. The thought of hurting Adonis churned Phoibos’s gut. Giorgos patiently held the poker and grinned down at Adonis. “You’re lucky, my young friend. I’ve been his friend for years and he’s never marked me.”

“Really.” Adonis’s eyes were wide. A hunger was there, a hunger for something out a reach, the birth of hope, rising like a Phoenix from its ashes. He had seen it the day he met Giorgos and promised that if Giorgos came with him, he would never be touched except by people of his own choosing. Rumor said that Lord Phoibos marked his own. If Phoibos didn’t mark him, would Adonis always doubt he was wanted?

Adonis looked as if his heart would break if Phoibos denied him this searing pain. Phoibos bit his lip and took the seal. The handle was hot even through the leather gloves. He shuffled forward until his knees straddled Adonis’s shoulders and he touched the hot brand to the prefect skin of Adonis’s white wrist. Adonis screamed, tearing Phoibos’s heart out. Phoibos tossed the seal aside and cut through Adonis’s bonds. He pulled Adonis onto his lap and held the injured arm carefully. Why had he done it? Why had he hurt his own? What should he do now to lessen the pain he’d caused?

“Here,” Giorgos said, holding out a pitcher of water. Phoibos grabbed Adonis’s fingers and shoved their hands into the water. Adonis shuddered in his arms. How could he have hurt his lover so? How could he have hurt his Adonis? “I’m sorry, my Adonis, my love. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“No,” said Adonis, his voice shaky. “This is what I wanted. Now I’m yours, right?”

“Forever.” Phoibos held him close. The water was cold, but warmed quickly. Phoibos swished the water so the cooler part would soothe the injury. “Don’t get tired of me, because I’ll never let you go.”

///

Adonis’s wrist—no, his entire arm—throbbed, but the rest of him was numb. Adonis twisted his head around to kiss Phoibos, to let him know that forever was just long enough. He took pleasure in Phoibos’s sigh. Phoibos couldn’t have thought he’d say no. Phoibos was offering Adonis everything he’d ever wanted.

Giorgos came back with more water. Phoibos pulled their hands from the water pitcher and plunged them into the bucket. This water was so cold that Adonis shivered. Phoibos asked Giorgos to unlace a side of his tabard and help him remove it. Why?

Adonis closed his eyes and leaned forward against Phoibos’s arm. His mother was talking to the other man, telling him everything. Of course she broke under Lord Phoibos’s torture. Everyone did. Cloth was pulled over Adonis’s head and his arm was lifted from the water long enough to be threaded through. The cloth was Phoibos’s red tabard, which hung past Adonis’s knees. Adonis leaned back against Phoibos’s chest and tipped his head up. “This is mine?”

“All that’s mine is yours.”

The wool was smooth beneath his hand. He smiled up at Phoibos, then relaxed against him. His eyelids were so heavy. He opened his eyes when he was laid down, his sore arm hanging off the bed into the bucket. Giorgos was turning Adonis’s hose right side out. Adonis tried to lift his hips when Phoibos pulled his breeches into place, but he ached too much. He could barely lift his foot as his hose were tugged on.

“Adonis,” Phoibos said, pulling Adonis back into his arms. He lifted Adonis’s sore wrist and lightly kissed his palm. “I love you.”

Adonis blinked several times then looked at his brand. Whatever happened now, Phoibos could never leave him. He smiled up at Phoibos. “I wear your mark.”

///

The burn wasn’t as bad as Phoibos had feared. The skin was red but not scorched. A blister the shape of the seal rose on the inside of Adonis’s once perfect wrist. Adonis couldn’t keep his eyes open. That was for the best; perhaps he would sleep through the pain.

“Lord Phoibos,” Dryas said, reminding Phoibos that the world was bigger than Adonis. “She has told me all she knows. Nereus’s allies invade Tyche tonight. They are to gather in Thanases Square when the moon rises.”

Phoibos nodded. “Giorgos, tell your men to get in position and then return to me.”

The army belonged to Giorgos rather than Dryas, who financed it, so Dryas’s House could not take control of it. Giorgos left to complete his task. Kallisto wept quietly. Adonis was breathing softly. Phoibos needed to get up, but couldn’t bear the thought of putting Adonis down. He glanced at Dryas who didn’t look entirely happy with his part in this adventure. “Dryas, I commend you. I wasn’t sure we’d get what we needed.”

“At least,” Kallisto sobbed, “rub some of your foul grease onto my poor boy’s wrist.”

Dryas brought out a roll of bandages and soon had the wound cleaned and dressed. Giorgos returned with one of his men, who untied Kallisto and then bound her hands together before carrying her away. Giorgos nodded after the man. “I don’t want Nereus to know that we know. He’ll keep her safe and quiet until she’s needed again.”

He fished Phoibos’s seal from the pitcher then grinned down at Adonis. “Now my friend, what are we to do with you?”

Phoibos stood, lifting Adonis in his arms. “You will take him somewhere that he will be safe.” He passed Adonis to Giorgos and then kissed Adonis’s head when he blinked and looked around. “You wear my mark. Know that I will find you wherever you are, even at the ends of the earth. If all goes well, I will see you in the morning, but even if I don’t see you tomorrow or next week, you are mine.”

As Giorgos left with Adonis, Phoibos sighed. He couldn’t let his lover distract him from saving his city. He followed Dryas out of the little room. At the bottom of the stairs, he took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders, becoming Lord Phoibos.

“You know,” said Dryas, “you can drop the act. Or simply let up on it. Rumor will say that the boy tamed you.”

Phoibos grinned. “That’s a good idea.” He turned to the soldier by the front door. “Are all the men in place?”

“Yes, my lord. We will need to hurry if we wish to beat the moon.”

///

Phoibos and Dryas followed the soldier to Thanases Square. They waited impatiently as the enemy climbed through the sewer grating and gathered by the fountain, but as the first of the enemy set out to wreak havoc, Giorgos’s men rose from the shadows and plowed through their enemy like so many stalks of wheat. For a frenzied few minutes the square was filled with shouting, the ringing of metal on metal, and the smell of dirt and blood. Some of the enemy came towards the alley Phoibos and Dryas guarded, but soldiers took care of the problem before Phoibos could draw his sword.

When the square was again silent, the Captain of Giorgos’s army appeared before Phoibos and saluted. “My Lords, the enemy is vanquished. None left the square. I have men searching the tunnels for any who escaped that way.”

Phoibos nodded. Dryas asked. “Any causalities?”

“Only a few cuts and one broken arm. Nothing major.”

“And the men know where they were tonight?”

The captain grinned. “Yes, my lord. I am losing at dice in our dormitory. Most of the men are watching or participating in practicing matches in the arena that my lord built for us. That will explain any wounds. We were nowhere near Thanases Square or the fight between Houses that took place there.”

Dryas clapped him on the back. “Very good. Don’t lose too much.”

The square was empty except for the dead as Phoibos and Dryas headed home. They walked a few blocks in silence before Dryas asked, “Do you think Nereus will know it was us?”

“I hope he does. That will save me effort of explaining it to him.”

“Then you don’t care that he knows you have Adonis?”

“I believe that can stay a secret until Soterios’s party when I introduce my young lover to the public.”

Dryas laughed. “I can’t wait to see Nereus’s face when he notices your mark on his son. Giorgos’s idea was brilliant.”

They turned a corner. Partygoers spilled from a house into the street. Many pointed and whispered as Phoibos and Dryas walked towards them. “Speaking of Giorgos, he has something of mine. I wonder where he put it.”

“I would imagine he put it in your bed where it belongs.” Dryas paused. “Do you know why Giorgos was so keen on you branding the boy?”

“I suppose it was because he wants a mark of his own. Or I believe that’s what he was suggesting.”

“Well, you put your mark on Adonis’s wrist where it is visible each time he shakes someone’s hand,” said Dryas. “Giorgos would need one on his ass.”

“Then you best start designing one,” said Phoibos, and both men laughed despite their audience. What would rumor say about that tomorrow?

Author’s Notes

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