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Bending the Knee

written and illustrated by juou no zan (女王のザン)

It was only the second year of Lorrit’s reign when the barbarians invaded. The country hadn’t been to war in decades, hadn’t fought off an invasion for more than a century, and Lorrit didn’t have the experience or the people to fight them off. It was only a matter of time before the Deshnadians captured the capital, and then, the palace. Lorrit was not surprised to be woken up in the middle of the night and thrown in his own dungeon.

He was somewhat surprised to be released, and brought to the throne room. His barbarian escort pushed him to the floor, so he would kneel in front of his former throne.

The man sitting on the throne didn’t look as fearsome as all that, honestly. Oh, he was tall and muscular and though his clothes were fine, they were still something he could have fought in. But there he was, sitting on the throne Lorrit’s father had given to him, as casual and comfortable as though he was the one who had been born to it.

The room was crowded, though Lorrit didn’t notice that right away. He hadn’t thought this many Deshnadians in one place could be so quiet.

“Oh,” said the man on the throne to the room at large, “no one told me he was cute.”

Lorrit, unused to deferring to anyone anymore, asked without thinking, “You speak our language?”

Lorrit only became aware his escort was about to hit him when the man on the throne held up a hand and the escort stayed his blow. Lorrit bowed his head and said, “My apologies…” He had no idea what honorific these barbarians used and if it would look too much like surrender to use one. He settled on, “Sir. As you might imagine, I am not accustomed to holding my tongue.”

The man on the throne laughed. “No, you wouldn’t be,” he said.

Lorrit had suspected, from the swiftness and thoroughness of the invasion, at precisely the most vulnerable and most strategically important points, that this invasion had been planned for some time. The fluency of their leader all but confirmed it, much help that knowledge was to him now.

“So,” said the man on the throne. “King Lorrit of Kepprala.” Lorrit was well aware he was in chains, on his knees, but hearing this man call him king made the chains feel heavier, and the floor harder. However, he managed to hold his tongue this time, as he looked back up at the barbarian on his throne. “I can’t help but notice it’s a lot of work to run this kingdom.”

“It did occupy much of my time, yes,” Lorrit said drily. “Sir,” he added, with a sideways glance at his escort.

“Now I don’t want to seem old and set in my ways,” said the man on the throne, “but I can’t help thinking, I don’t want to learn all this bureaucratic shit and spend my day talking to ministers and advisers and minor nobles about property disputes and taxes and bridge levies.”

You break it, you bought it, Lorrit thought inanely, but managed to keep that to himself. He’d never thought of it as a hassle, but then, he’d grown up with that being the price of living in the palace and having servants everywhere: taking responsibility and making decisions. You listened to dozens of old people give you their opinion, and then you made a decision, and hoped they were satisfied enough with it to leave you alone for a few days.

“And I feel,” continued the man on the throne, “that you also have a problem you’d like to solve.” Oh, what Lorrit would have given to have “a” problem to solve. “I think we could work something out here.”

Part of Lorrit wanted to declare he’d never give in to a barbarian’s demands, but that part was stupid. The rest of him felt the weight of a lifetime of responsibility, and if he had to make concessions to a Deshnad lord to keep more of his people from dying and keep his kingdom afloat, then he would. He didn’t have much choice at this point, to be honest. He’d mostly been expecting them to kill him.

“Name your demands,” Lorrit said. Let the guard hit him for insolence if he wanted.

The man on the throne grinned. Lorrit’s guard did not hit him. “Well, that’s the thing, ain’t it,” the man on the throne said. “I pretty much have what I came for. I could raze this city, and every other city of yours, to the ground if I wanted, or I could spend the rest of my life learning how to manage a sedentary kingdom like this. But you, I imagine, have a couple of things you’d like.”

Lorrit smiled thinly. “I can think of a few, yes,” he said.

The Deshnad lord leaned forward in the throne, resting his chin on his fist. He said, “Instead of killing you, the way you probably expected and the way all my generals want me to, I could keep you on as an administrator. It’d be the same job as before, really. You’d still be running the country.”

Lorrit wondered how steep the price was. How much could the country bear to send away in tribute? How much could they contribute to the war effort of a nation so militarily-minded? What else would they want from Kepprala? His heart pounded. How much of his country could he give away and still say he was doing it for his country? With a dry mouth, he asked, “And what would you want for this boon?”

“You,” said the man on the throne.

Lorrit frowned, and opened his mouth to ask for a clarification, but the uproar from the other barbarians in the room was too great.

Vashta, vashta!” shouted the man on the throne. “Shut the fuck up! What, you’re all about to go out and till the fields and grind the flour and all that shit?”

“We didn’t follow you here just so you could take a bride,” shouted back one Deshnadian on the left side of the room.

Well, Lorrit thought, that was somewhat of a clarification.

“Haven’t you direchkos heard of a hostage?” the man on the throne demanded. He looked back at Lorrit. “If you surrendered, wouldn’t your people lay down their arms and stop dying?”

Lorrit had to admit that was probably true. Some of the people would be sure he had a plan of some sort–the people who believed there was actually something special about the royal family besides decades of tradition–and the rest would be glad to be able to settle back into a familiar routine. He said, “I believe so.”

The man on the throne smiled. “And you don’t want your people to keep dying, do you?”

“Of course not,” Lorrit said. If the state of the capital was any indication, his people were being slaughtered. The reports he’d gotten before he’d been thrown in the dungeons certainly hadn’t been encouraging.

“So you give yourself to me,” the Deshnadian said, “and I tell my people to stop killing your people, and everyone’s a big happy family.”

An immediate halt to the fighting was the most important thing. And the country had been doing well, surely they could support an influx of warriors without taking too much of a hit. It didn’t sound like he was demanding any tribute above simply staying here…and Lorrit. Lorrit’s body? He wasn’t sure.

Well, it had always been Lorrit’s job to sacrifice his own desires for his country. “Very well,” he said. “I agree to your terms.”

The man on the throne nodded to the person escorting Lorrit, and the guard pulled Lorrit to his feet and unlocked the shackles on Lorrit’s arms. Then he stepped back, leaving Lorrit standing alone in the middle of the throne room.

“Well,” said the man on the throne, “come here.”

Lorrit approached the throne he had sat on himself only days ago. He had no idea what his new lord–gods, he didn’t even know the man’s name–wanted from him, and no etiquette training he’d ever been given covered this situation. He didn’t know what passed for manners among people who shouted at their king in the throne room while he negotiated for control of a subjugated country.

“All the way,” said the man on the throne, gesturing Lorrit closer. “Up the steps, come on.” So Lorrit climbed onto the dais on which the throne sat, until he was level with the man’s eyes, and then above them, standing in front of him. He was extremely uncomfortable. He’d always hated having his back to the throne room; he almost always climbed onto the dais from the side for that very reason.

The man he’d just given himself to, whatever that meant, didn’t look that much older than him. Not as old as his father, certainly, and maybe not even as old as his younger ministers. Former ministers. Would they be his ministers again, if he was going to be running, though not ruling, Kepprala? He had a strong jaw, recently shaven but already stubbled again. He was certainly more muscular and broadly shouldered than Lorrit. His hair was unfashionably short, which was probably practical under the helmets Lorrit had seen the Deshnadians wearing when they fought. He didn’t look any more like a conquering warlord up close than he had from across the room, but then, Lorrit knew he himself had never looked like much of a king.

The man on the throne said, “Suck me off.”

Lorrit almost froze–surely he’d heard wrong, surely his apparently-fluent conqueror had made a mistake–but then he heard the laughter and jeers from the assembled barbarians, and recalled the jibe about the bride. He fell to his knees as gracefully as he could manage, which was fairly graceful. Thinking and acting quickly while under pressure were important skills for a king.

His new lord made no move to help him save to spread his legs enough that Lorrit could fit between them, so Lorrit carefully reached for the flap of his breeches and pulled his cock out.

Lorrit had never sucked another man’s cock before, but he’d had his own sucked enough to give him an idea of the mechanics. He doubted his skill at the act would be the most important thing at the moment anyway; having him do this now, in public, was about sending a message; it was a performance. It demonstrated Lorrit’s commitment to this new arrangement, as well as made it nigh-impossible to go back on. He might not have known the ins and outs of these barbarians’ culture, but the man sitting on the throne clearly knew Lorrit’s well enough. This would crush the possibility of a rebellion in Lorrit’s name more thoroughly even than executing him would; an execution might make him a martyr, but this signified a complete capitulation in a very definite way. It also all but eliminated the possibility of Lorrit rebelling, or attempting to eliminate his conqueror himself, because he would be viewed now as the kind of man who needed backing by a greater power. And he could hardly refuse at this point, having agreed, in front of witnesses, to these terms; nitpicking about the vagueness of the agreement or the suddenness of the demands would make him seem even weaker, not to mention less trustworthy, than the act of sucking his conqueror off in public.

Whatever this man said about his tolerance for administration and bureaucracy, he was obviously a savvy politician as well as an accomplished military strategist. Lorrit saw now that he and his kingdom had never stood a chance.

Luckily, the man on the throne was not shy of public performance or completely uninterested in Lorrit’s attentions; his cock stiffened readily enough in Lorrit’s hands for Lorrit to take it in his mouth. The smell wasn’t bad, and the taste was negligible. For a barbarian, he kept himself clean, or at least he had since he had retained control of the palace’s bath-chambers. He could easily have rested a possessive hand on Lorrit’s head, or shoulders, but he stayed relaxed in the throne, arms casually resting on the armrests, and Lorrit had to admit it was a good choice. He was eliminating any appearance of physical coercion while retaining the appearance of comfortable control of the situation. Lorrit, on his knees in front of the throne, looked like he was just giving him his due. Oh, he was good.

Lorrit couldn’t maintain that sort of detachment for observation long, however. As the Deshnad ruler’s cock got harder in his mouth, it demanded more attention. It physically required more concentration, of course, but also it grew difficult to think of other things. It felt better, against Lorrit’s lips and tongue, than he would have expected. He had not enjoyed overmuch the times he applied his mouth to his partners before–the slickness that felt so good under his fingers or against his cock had felt slimy on his face, and he’d felt almost lost in the soft flesh, the difference between his lips and tongue and their lips and flesh negligible, and almost confusing. This felt straightforward, didn’t make a mess of the rest of his face, and it was easy to tell what was him or his influence, and what was the man sitting in front of him.

As his breathing grew more labored and Lorrit felt his balls tighten under his fingers, the man on the throne squeezed Lorrit’s shoulders with his legs just a bit, and Lorrit realized that was a signal to him that was less apparent to their audience that his new master was about to come. Even though he was paying attention, to try not to be caught unawares, he was pathetically grateful for that courtesy. Even if it was only to make his performance in this conquest play better, it was still a consideration he appreciated.

He did not manage to swallow everything when the man on the throne came, but he didn’t choke, and he didn’t spill it all over his new ruler’s clothes, and the man on the throne didn’t say anything about it. He gently pushed Lorrit’s hair out of his face and cupped his cheek. “I suppose that will do for now, King Lorrit,” he said. “We both have work to do.”

Lorrit spent the rest of the day releasing his court from prison and figuring out who would replace the dead. The losses of administration were not as heavy as the military losses, yet one more indication of how targeted this attack had been.

He did have to replace his secretary, and immediately put the new man to work sending and collecting messages to every part of the kingdom. He also had to set his former guards and soldiers to work cleaning and repairing the palace and the surrounding city, as the military duties had all been assumed by the invaders, and Lorrit wasn’t sure if his deal with their leader actually allowed him to give them orders or not.

It wasn’t until after midnight that he was even able to consider going to bed, and he stumbled unthinkingly to his old bedchamber, only to stop in the doorway when he saw evidence of its use by another. The Deshnad leader, presumably, had taken the king’s chamber for his own when Lorrit was in the dungeon. Where was Lorrit to sleep? Was he, as one of the Deshnadian’s things, allowed here, or was he, a step down the ladder of authority, supposed to find another room? Was there another room available, even? The stewards had been hard-pressed to find space for the former court among the rooms left open by their conquerors.

He stood in the doorway, weighing his options versus his probable punishment if he was wrong, and decided he was just going to get ready for bed. He’d already lived through being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night once, and he doubted a second time would be any worse.

Lorrit was sitting in front of the mirror, braiding his hair and wondering where his jewels had gone and if they were still his jewels, when the Deshnad lord walked through the door. “Oh good, you’re here,” he said. Well, that answered that question, so Lorrit continued to braid his hair.

He watched in the mirror as the man he’d handed over his life to pulled off his shirt and tossed it on a side table, on top of the armor and swordbelt that was already there. Even across the room, Lorrit could see his shoulders and chest were scarred. He was also strapping and well-built, in a way Lorrit associated more with laborers than expert political actors. He was, to a certain type of noble lady, an ideal man, at least as far as appearances went. Lorrit did not quite understand what a man who looked like that saw in a man who looked like him. Or in a man at all, really, since he could certainly have had his pick of women in Lorrit’s court even without being a conquering invader.

Then again, he had no idea what Deshnad culture was like about romance and sex. He knew there were countries where it was entirely ordinary for men to be with other men, and at least one country he’d heard of where the nobility considered it vulgar for men and women to be together at all, and marriage was viewed as a tolerated necessity, but husband and wife each usually had at least one same-sex lover. Trying to understand this man’s motivations without knowing anything about the culture he lived in was probably a fool’s game even before Lorrit factored in what a well-honed political thinker he was.

Lorrit said, “I have some questions, now that we’re alone.”

The Deshnad lord looked up, saw Lorrit watching him in the mirror, and smiled. “I’m sure you do,” he said. “It sounds like most of your negotiations take quite a bit longer.”

Lorrit turned to face him directly. “What do you expect from me?” he asked. “I will of course abide by our agreement, but I have to know what you want in order to provide it.” He gestured around the room. “Shall I stay here, or should I find somewhere else to be when you wish to be alone, for instance.”

The Deshnadian shrugged. “It’s your room,” he said. “You’re the king, this is the king’s room. I’ll find my own rooms when you get married.”

“When I get married?” Lorrit asked, surprised.

“I know better than to lay a claim to your heart or soul,” said the Deshnadian. “I asked for your body, that’s all I could reasonably expect under the circumstances.” He leaned against the table to remove his boots, crossing one ankle over the other thigh to pull them off.

“I suppose that answers the biggest question,” Lorrit said, taken aback. “Thank you.”

He let one boot drop to the floor. Then he said, “I expect you to be available unless you’re like, shitting. Or ill,” he added.

“What about–” Lorrit snapped his mouth shut.

“Yes?” he asked, letting his other boot drop to the floor.

“No, you were very clear,” Lorrit said. He had been about to ask about meetings or audiences, but why would he hesitate to make public demands of Lorrit now? That was obviously part of the otherwise generous deal. It worked as a method to establish control, why wouldn’t it work to maintain control? He turned back to the mirror and picked up the sections of his braid again, carefully picking them apart. He asked instead, “What should I call you?”

“Nateno,” he said. In the mirror, Lorrit could see him stretching, as though to pop his back.

Lorrit frowned. “Is that your name?” he asked. “I appreciate knowing that, but I can’t call you by name. Not in public, at least.”

“Ah, yes,” Nateno said. “I suppose not.” He rolled his shoulders a few times. “Would ‘lord’ be sufficient?”

“Yes, my lord,” Lorrit said. It felt strange to be saying, instead of hearing. He’d never had occasion to say it before; the only people he’d ever owed fealty to were his parents, who were more properly addressed as “your majesty”, or “highness”, though Lorrit had mostly called them “mother” and “father”.

“Fuck,” Nateno muttered, and Lorrit wondered momentarily what he had done wrong. Nateno undid his breeches and shoved them down, and Lorrit saw he was already hard. Gods, this wasn’t just for show in public at all. “Are you finished getting ready?” he asked. “Because I would like you naked and in the bed.”

Lorrit’s face heated. He looked away from the mirror and down at the vanity. “I’ll just be a moment, my lord,” he said. Truthfully, all he had to do was tie up his finished braid and change into his nightshirt, though that last was apparently unnecessary. He let himself take his time tying off his hair, however, in order to collect himself.

Nateno flopped onto the bed, going out of range of the mirror. Lorrit took a deep breath and stood. He grabbed his nightshirt and draped it over the footboard of the bed. Nateno, he noticed, was staring at him, and his face heated again.

It wasn’t as if he’d never undressed in front of anyone before. But this was so unlike his previous encounters, he felt out of his depth. He pulled off his hose and smallclothes and set them aside. Nateno didn’t say anything, just continued to watch him. Gods, this was almost more excruciating than getting to his knees in the throne room.

He sat down on the bed, and immediately Nateno pulled him down and pinned him. Lorrit was flat on his back, naked, underneath a larger but equally naked man. It might have felt like a dream–that is to say, surreal–had it not been for Nateno’s erection pressing into him. Nateno bent his head down and kissed him.

It turned out to be just as easy to follow a man’s lead as a woman’s. Nateno kissed him, and Lorrit kissed back. Even with Nateno’s stubble scraping against his skin and his erection pressing into him, kissing was familiar enough that Lorrit could relax into it. They kissed until Lorrit was hard too, and he marveled at how little Nateno had moved his hips to rub against him. The man had astonishing self-control.

He levered himself up off Lorrit, and said, “Roll over.” Lorrit rolled onto his stomach while Nateno reached over to the side table. When he leaned back over Lorrit, he handed him a pillow. “Put this under your hips,” he said. Lorrit wedged the pillow under himself as Nateno asked, “Have you done this before?”

“Not from this end,” Lorrit said, and pulled a face at himself.

Nateno chuckled, but did not otherwise comment on Lorrit’s unintentional wordplay. “Good,” he said, and even though that was all he said, Lorrit’s face heated once more. He himself had never really been interested in whatever bragging rights came from being someone’s first, mostly because of the possessive slant it seemed to take, but he was certainly aware that it might mean something to someone. The appeal of being possessive he hadn’t understood seemed more understandable from the side of the possessed, which was a thought he planned to keep to himself.

Nateno straddled his thighs and rested a bottle against the pillow supporting Lorrit’s hips. He put his hands on the back of Lorrit’s thighs, and Lorrit was surprised they weren’t slick with oil yet. He slid his hands up to Lorrit’s ass, and it was a struggle not to jump as his warm, calloused hands brushed over some of Lorrit’s most sensitive skin. Nateno squeezed, gently, and Lorrit felt his cheeks separate. Gods, was Nateno trying to embarrass him? The lamps were all still lit, and here Nateno was, taking his time and looking at Lorrit instead of taking his pleasure and getting it over with.

Nateno let go of him, and a moment later Lorrit heard the uncorking of a bottle. He tried not to tense up, and he felt like he did a good job, right up until Nateno’s hands were on him again. Nateno chuckled, but again, did not comment. He rested one hand on Lorrit’s left buttock, and rubbed one slick finger of the other over Lorrit’s asshole.

It felt fine. Not amazing, but not awful. Different. He could see it being pleasant, but he was still self-conscious about how he was on display, and the soft pillow under his hips was not really as nice to rub against as Nateno’s warm, muscular body had been.

Nateno took his sweet time opening Lorrit up. Lorrit couldn’t imagine being that patient, especially if he’d been as hard as Nateno. He laid there, with Nateno straddling his thighs and fingering him for what felt like hours, though it could hardly have been even one. Nateno added more oil, and more fingers, and worked them inside Lorrit so slowly and steadily that Lorrit’s erection went pretty much away. Not that it hurt–Nateno was being far too cautious for that–but because it just wasn’t very sexy. Then, as he reached further inside and stretched Lorrit’s asshole wider, it started to feel good again. Nateno’s fingers brushed against Lorrit’s prostate, and Lorrit’s entire body jerked. He had heard of it, of course, but since he’d never had anything in his ass before, if had just been an abstract fact, a piece of trivia about human bodies. He had never given serious thought to what it felt like, other than “people say it feels good”. It was a shock to feel exactly how good it felt for himself. Gods, it felt amazing.

After that, Nateno fucked him with his fingers until Lorrit was fully hard again, and desperately trying not to hump the pillow underneath him like an impatient adolescent. Just as Lorrit was getting close, and wondering if he should say something, Nateno stopped.

Lorrit did not ask Nateno why he’d stopped, but it was a close thing. He didn’t have time to begin to feel objectified or exposed again before Nateno shifted behind him and slid his cock right up to Lorrit’s asshole. He leaned down, with his arms braced next to Lorrit’s head, and nuzzled at the back of Lorrit’s shoulders, while he rolled his hips against Lorrit’s ass.

Finally, without much apparent effort, he shifted on top of Lorrit and slid his cock into him. Lorrit was only able to hold back his moan by taking a deep in-drawn breath. It felt different, now that he was aroused again, and Nateno’s cock felt different than his fingers. Warmer, for one thing. Thicker. He could certainly see the appeal of this activity now.

Nateno paused. “That didn’t hurt, did it?” he asked, sounding concerned.

Lorrit choked back a laugh. He said, “No, my lord.”

“God,” Nateno growled, and drove into him.

He couldn’t have said how long he laid there, with Nateno on top of him, thrusting into him over and over. At some point, Lorrit stopped being able to hold back his gasps and moans. Nateno seemed to like that, which wasn’t too surprising by that point, and kissed the back of Lorrit’s neck whenever he made a pleased noise. Eventually, Lorrit came, spilling against the pillow he’d been rubbing against since Nateno pressed him into it with his weight. Nateno didn’t slow down at all. Lorrit wondered how he could possibly go that long without coming, and then considered the idea that Nateno had been touching himself or rubbing against something while he used his fingers on Lorrit.

It was still kind of pleasant, in a less urgent way, to continue to lie there and get fucked. Now that he was quite lubricated and loose, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. And the way Nateno continued to pant and thrust into him was nice. Lorrit himself was perfectly satisfied, and he didn’t mind contributing to Nateno’s gratification.

He didn’t actually take that much longer; Nateno’s breath came faster and faster, and then his hips were slamming into Lorrit’s ass. He pressed his forehead between Lorrit’s shoulder-blades and groaned, and Lorrit experienced something he’d never expected to: someone coming inside him.

“Gods,” Nateno murmured into Lorrit’s back, “I’ve been thinking about that all day.”

Lorrit felt himself flush again. He almost said, “You don’t have to flatter me,” but Nateno surely knew that. It seemed as though he meant it, then, which was even more embarrassing, somehow, than empty flattery. Nateno could have had anything or anyone in Lorrit’s kingdom, and he seemed to genuinely want Lorrit. Lorrit had never been genuinely wanted for anything besides being royalty. Maybe that’s what this was, some kind of conquering kink. That would make more sense, Lorrit thought, but it wasn’t a very reassuring explanation.

Nateno relaxed onto Lorrit’s back, letting his weight rest on Lorrit. He was heavy, but not uncomfortably so. Lorrit felt very secure, which was funny considering he literally had an invader on top of him, but then again, this was almost certainly the safest he could be from anything other than this exact Deshnadian. Lorrit dozed off a bit, and was startled awake when Nateno shifted.

“You’re fine, don’t worry,” Nateno murmured against Lorrit’s shoulder, and slipped his cock out of Lorrit’s ass. He rolled off of Lorrit’s back and got out of the bed. Lorrit heard him moving around the room, and then the lamps went out one by one. There were quiet footsteps, and then the bed shifted under Nateno’s weight. Nateno murmured something that Lorrit didn’t understand, but he was too sleepy to inquire further. He was asleep again before he knew it.

*

Lorrit woke up with Nateno’s arms wrapped around him, and Nateno’s cock poking into his thigh. It had to be morning, as the fire was lit. Gods, he hadn’t even thought about the servants seeing him like this. He felt rested, if sore. He desperately needed a wash, and he had to pee. He wondered if he could wriggle out of bed without waking Nateno, and rolled over to try. However, Nateno stirred immediately, stretching out beside him. He did move one arm from around Lorrit, so Lorrit rolled away.

“Don’t go too far,” Nateno muttered, as Lorrit pulled on his nightshirt.

“Pardon?” Lorrit said, half turning back to the bed.

Nateno cracked an eye open to look back at Lorrit. “If you need to piss or get a drink or something, go ahead. But I want you back before you go run the country.”

“Yes, my lord,” Lorrit murmured, hoping Nateno was still too asleep to notice the way Lorrit blushed at that. Then he turned and went into the bath-chamber that adjoined his room.

Walking wasn’t as bad as he had feared it would be. Evidently Nateno’s endless work preparing him had done some good, or at least prevented discomfort. Sitting was more problematic, though mostly because of how sore his hips and thighs were. Standing was also uncomfortable, though Lorrit thought some stretches might help make the rest of his day easier.

He relieved himself and washed his face. Examining himself in the looking-glass, he noticed some kiss marks on his neck and shoulders he didn’t even remember getting. Well, he thought, at least none of them would show above his collar, and then he wondered if that could possibly matter at this point. Nateno had not been shy about staking his claim in public, nor about reserving the right to do so again. If anyone wanted to remark upon Lorrit’s marked neck, they were going to have to work very hard to say anything half as embarrassing to Lorrit as sucking a man’s cock for the first time in front of a crowd of hostile barbarian invaders.

Lorrit went back into the bed chamber and went to his vanity. This morning, there was a pitcher of water and two empty cups set to the side of the desktop. Whichever of the servants had the presence of mind to add that to the lighting of the fire was a gift; Lorrit should see if there was some way to thank or reward them. He poured himself a cup and drained it with little effort. He started on a second one before he thought to ask if Nateno would like some.

“Sure,” Nateno said, when Lorrit asked him. He shimmied up the bed to sit up a bit, and Lorrit brought the cup and pitcher to him. He sat down on the bed while Nateno drank.

Nateno set the pitcher on the floor next to the bed and rolled over to put his face in Lorrit’s lap. Lorrit hurriedly set his cup down.

“Lay down,” Nateno said, his breath hot against Lorrit’s cock.

Lorrit wriggled down onto his back, and Nateno immediately crawled on top of him. His cock was already heavy against Lorrit’s thighs. He pressed Lorrit into the bed and kissed him.

It took very little time for Lorrit to forget his soreness, with Nateno’s lips against his and his legs tangled between Lorrit’s. There was something to be said for feeling so wanted.

Nateno kissed him and ground his hips against him until they were both hard and breathing heavy. Then Nateno propped himself up on one arm and slid a hand between their bodies to take both their cocks in his warm, callused hand. Lorrit moaned into his mouth, and Nateno thrusted his hips against Lorrit’s.

With Nateno’s hand wrapped around their cocks and his cock pressed up against Lorrit’s, slick with their combined pre-come and sweat, it didn’t take long before Nateno stiffened against him and came all over his nightshirt. He kept kissing Lorrit and pumping his cock, now covered in Nateno’s come, until Lorrit came as well.

Nateno kissed each corner of his mouth before pulling away. He murmured, “I suppose that’ll have to do. I’m sure you have things to do today.”

“Yes,” Lorrit said, though he couldn’t have said he’d mind spending more time satisfying Nateno’s desires. It was vastly more restful than restoring order to his court.

“Come back earlier tonight,” Nateno said, as he rolled off of Lorrit.

“Yes, my lord,” Lorrit said. Nateno growled and pulled him in for another kiss. Was it the calling him lord that got Nateno going like that? For such a canny politician, he wasn’t very good at hiding his tells. Then again, Lorrit supposed, it wasn’t as though he had anything to fear from Lorrit at this point. What harm could Lorrit do by turning him on?

Nateno released him again, and said, “Tonight.”

Lorrit’s day was less frantic than the one before, but otherwise much the same. He did get the military situation clarified, and subsequently redistributed his guardsmen to a less useless position. He spent what felt like all day training his new secretary as he solved or delegated problem after problem. It was only as he sat down for dinner that he remembered Nateno’s request from that morning, and the implications thereof.

Perhaps it should have been more difficult to face being used that way again. He had never been especially interested in men, after all. But it was difficult to dread what Nateno might have in mind when he’d made sure at least the encounters in their bedroom had been enjoyable for Lorrit. Or maybe Lorrit was easy when he felt wanted. It was surely easier to think of himself as the kind of man who would spread his legs to feel wanted than one who liked other men. Maybe the distinction wouldn’t mean much to anyone else.

He gave his last task for the night to his new secretary, telling himself he would remember the man’s name soon, and went to his chambers. Nateno wasn’t there yet, so Lorrit decided to take a bath. If Nateno came in halfway through, at least Lorrit would already be naked.

He hadn’t realized how gross he felt until he lathered up. He probably should have washed this morning, before starting his day, but it felt like he had too many things to do to put them off any longer. He sank into the hot water and blessed his grandfather’s decision to build a bath-chamber with indoor plumbing.

He heard the door open in the main room and ducked his head underwater to rinse. When he popped back up, it was just in time to see the bath-chamber door open.

“There you are,” Nateno said. He took a long look at Lorrit’s body in the bath. “Now that’s a good idea,” he said, and came fully into the room, closing the door behind him. He began undressing, starting with his sword belt.

Lorrit was unsurprised when Nateno stepped into the tub. He was a bit taken aback when Nateno grabbed him and pulled him between his legs. But then Nateno only reached for the shampoo, so Lorrit continued washing himself, feeling extremely self-conscious.

He finished, and made to get out of the bath, but Nateno said, “Stay. Soak a while.” So he sat back down and tried to relax, with the Deshnad warlord behind him.

It was easier when Nateno finished his own washing up and pulled Lorrit to him, because his hand immediately dipped between Lorrit’s legs. His cock pressed against Lorrit’s lower back, already quite hard. This made more sense to Lorrit, and he relaxed into Nateno’s arms as Nateno started toying with his cock. He rested his head back on Nateno’s shoulder, letting most of his body slip below the water. It was actually quite luxurious, soaking in the warm, soapy water while someone else attended to his cock. Granted, the hand fondling his balls belonged to another man, but it was otherwise not dissimilar to fantasies he had entertained before.

Lorrit was panting and urgently hard when Nateno finally shifted behind him. He pulled Lorrit to his feet as he stood, and guided Lorrit the few steps to the edge of the bath. Since the bath-chamber had been built with this bath in mind, it was sunk in to the floor, with a step down from the other half of the room. Nateno put a hand between Lorrit’s shoulders and pushed him so he bent over the edge. Lorrit had just enough time to think that this would be an awkward way to fuck him, with water half way up his thighs and sloshing around them, when Nateno bent over and pressed a kiss to the base of his spine.

Lorrit gasped, and just managed to keep himself from telling Nateno he couldn’t. The entire point of this arrangement was that Nateno could, in fact, do whatever he wished with Lorrit, and if that included putting his mouth places no one else had ever dared, that was his decision.

It felt better than he expected, when Nateno’s tongue touched his asshole. Distantly he thought, of course it felt good; if he’d enjoyed Nateno’s fingers there, why wouldn’t he enjoy his mouth? He never complained when someone put their mouth on his cock. And logically, directly out of the bath was the perfect time to explore someone’s body intimately, as he could hardly have been cleaner. However, there was part of Lorrit’s brain that was overwhelmed with how inappropriate and dirty this was, and apparently that part was connected directly to his cock in rather the inverse way he would have expected. Nateno’s tongue moved across his asshole, and Lorrit’s cock jumped against the wet tile wall of the bath. He whimpered, and it sounded so needy in the echoing bath chamber that Lorrit almost didn’t recognize it as his own voice.

Nateno licked him until his legs were shaking and Lorrit doubted he could have stood without both the floor and Nateno holding him up. His cock had leaked a frankly astonishing amount of pre-come, and it had made the wall of the bath slick where his cock was pressed into it. He was so profoundly embarrassed and so incredibly aroused, and he did not wish to examine further the ways in which these were connected. He was starting to suspect he was going to have to, as this was only his second day under Nateno’s terms. Eventually, he would run out of previously-uncrossed boundaries and have time to reflect on the many ways he apparently had not known himself.

Nateno pressed a distinct kiss to his hole, and then his mouth withdrew. Lorrit did not manage to keep himself from whining, and if he had any room left inside himself to feel shame, he might have been appalled at that.

Nateno chuckled behind him, and said, “Don’t worry, my king, I’m not done with you yet.”

“My king” was not technically a proper way to address him, but there were those who did. His former secretary had, on occasion, as well as certain of his ministers who had known him a long time. It was a rather intimate way to address a Keppralan monarch, and it had always struck Lorrit as friendly while still being respectful. When he hadn’t called his father simply “father”, he had called him “my king”. It had never before occurred to him what it would sound like in a sexual setting.

Water sloshed behind him, and Nateno’s hands returned to his hips. He pulled Lorrit back from the edge of the bath somewhat, though not enough for him to risk collapsing into the bath on his unsteady legs, and Lorrit almost wept when he felt Nateno’s cock against his cleft. Nateno rubbed the head of his cock across Lorrit’s spit-slick asshole, and Lorrit realized he kept no oil in the bath chamber, nor had he seen Nateno bring any in or take any from his clothes. Yet Nateno’s cock pressed in, if not easily, then at least not painfully. He went even slower than he had the night before, and though Lorrit’s ass appreciated it, other parts of him wished Nateno would get on with it.

Finally, Nateno seemed satisfied, and started to move just a bit faster. Unlike the night before, Lorrit’s cock had not lost interest in the proceedings, and the first time Nateno’s cock brushed against his prostate, it felt like a shock of cold water through his entire body. He must have made some reaction, although he was hardly aware enough of anything but the sensations coursing through him to notice, for Nateno moaned. “God, King Lorrit,” he said, and it was so absurd that he would use Lorrit’s title after spending so long with his tongue inside Lorrit’s ass. Lorrit began to laugh, but the clenching of muscles that caused felt foreign and delightful, and it turned into a gasp.

Lorrit had never actually had sex in this bath. His days of combining bathing and sex were largely in his youth, before he had become king. He had thought about it, when he inherited these chambers and their spacious bath, of course. He had not, however, pictured himself the one bent over the side of the bath with water sloshing absurdly around his knees.

He came almost the instant Nateno touched his cock, which would have been more embarrassing if he hadn’t withstood gods knew how long with Nateno’s mouth doing obscene things to his asshole, or if he still retained any capacity for embarrassment. Nateno stopped for a second at that, and Lorrit’s only worry was that he would actually stop. But after a moment, he said, “Fuck it,” and started pounding into Lorrit as though it was his calling. He spilled inside Lorrit shortly thereafter, his fingertips digging in to Lorrit’s hips.

He didn’t stop, though. He took the barest moment to collect himself before pulling out of Lorrit and rolling him on to his back. He bent over, took Lorrit’s face in his hands, and kissed him deeply. By the time Lorrit remembered where his mouth had been, he had been eagerly responding to Nateno’s tongue for quite a while, and figured it for a lost cause.

It took less time than he would have expected for Nateno’s cock to stiffen again, and he slipped back inside Lorrit easily this time, the way eased by his own spunk. He hiked Lorrit’s legs over his shoulders, and pulled him back into the bath a bit, letting gravity do some of the work of pulling Lorrit onto his cock. It felt as though his cock went deeper like this, driving the breath out of Lorrit with each thrust. His own cock was hardly half-mast, but each thrust sent a wave of pleasure through him nonetheless. He hadn’t even had to get used to this, he thought. His body had apparently been like this all along, ready to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in acts he had never even considered.

Nateno came a second time, and this time Lorrit could see him as he did so. He buried his cock as deep in Lorrit’s ass as it would go, and threw his head back. He honestly looked like he could be the lead in one of those scandalous cross-class romance novels, where a pretty young countess fell in love with a strapping gardener who treated her like a woman instead of a better, and all of Lorrit’s embarrassment came rushing back as he realized that would make him the pretty young countess. His treacherous cock twitched at the thought, and he closed his eyes. He had enough to deal with putting his kingdom back together; as long as Nateno demanded nothing more than his physical cooperation, he was not going to think about how much he enjoyed it.

Nateno took much less time to clean himself up when they got out of the bath. His gaze prickled Lorrit’s skin as he watched Lorrit go through his routine, and it was probably the reason Lorrit’s cock did not appreciably calm down as he dried, combed, and braided his damp hair. He could hardly have hid it, even if he hadn’t suspected putting on his nightshirt was a waste of time while he shared his bed with Nateno, so of course, by the time he made it to the bed, Nateno’s cock was once more showing signs of life. How old was he? Lorrit had thought he was older than him, but judged by the liveliness of his cock, he seemed more like an adolescent, though he surely couldn’t have been that young.

He pulled Lorrit to him in the bed, and brought him off with his hands. Lorrit, now exhausted, sleepily returned the favor, muscle memory working well enough to carry him through despite his exhaustion and inexperience, and drifted off without a thought for the lanterns or the bed covers.

*

When Lorrit awoke, he was alone in the bed with the covers pulled over him. The fire was lit but dim, and the faint light making its way around the edges of the curtains was bright. There was a pitcher on his vanity again, and his thirst was pressing. It turned out he did not have to look far for direction, for there was a note under one of the cups next to the pitcher. In large, childishly careful handwriting, the note read Let your secritary in when your decent.

If Lorrit had thought himself sore the previous morning, it was nothing to how he felt now. There were muscles in his lower body he hadn’t even known he had, each making itself known for the first time with complaints. The insides and backs of his thighs were even more sore than they had been yesterday, and raising his arm even enough to take a drink hurt. But if his new secretary–and he had to learn the man’s name soon–was waiting for him, he didn’t have the time to sit here and stretch until he felt better. Besides, there was only so much stretching could do.

He drained the water pitcher, then went to the bath-chamber. Since most of yesterday’s exertions had happened in or around the bath, he was fairly presentable. He had fresh kiss marks on his neck and shoulders he didn’t remember getting, to add to the ones he noticed yesterday morning. He relieved himself, washed his hands thoroughly, and cleaned his lower stomach of its remnants of last night’s activities. Then he went to his wardrobe and pulled out the robe he had hardly worn since his mother moved away, and put it on. It was hardly something he could wear out and about the palace, but if he needed to meet with his secretary first thing, it would do well enough.

He opened the door to the hall and there was his new secretary, sitting in a chair next to the door that had not been there before. He looked up at Lorrit and immediately rose to his feet. “Your highness,” he said. He was holding a file board, and Lorrit thought that, whatever it was Nateno was doing now, he had probably made a wise decision in leaving this to Lorrit. There would only be more work as they heard from outlying areas.

Lorrit gestured the man inside, so he didn’t have to stand in the hall in only a robe. “What time is it?” he asked.

“Mid-morning,” said his secretary. “Lord Nateno said” –he stumbled just a bit, but quickly went on– “not to wake you unless it was an emergency. Someone should be up with a breakfast tray for you shortly.”

The table Lorrit ordinarily took his breakfasts and odd-hours meetings at had Nateno’s armor on it. He thought for a moment, and decided if it was supposed to still be his room, he should be able to use his table. He transferred it to the bed and sat down, indicating his secretary should take the other seat. “Let’s pretend I am past embarrassment,” he said. “What did Lord Nateno actually say?”

The secretary averted his eyes, but didn’t flush. Oh, to have a complexion that didn’t show his embarrassment, Lorrit thought. “He said you needed your rest because he wore you out last night,” he said. “And to let you sleep unless there was an emergency.” He looked back up at Lorrit. “Are you?” he asked.

“Gods, no,” Lorrit said. From someone else, that question might have been considered impertinent, or at least overly familiar, considering he had been working for Lorrit only a few days. However, there was only so circumspect he could be with his own secretary, especially if this was going to be an ongoing scheduling issue. He went on, “But I agreed to it, and we can hardly let my personal burdens interfere in the running of the country. I am quite sure we’ll need to, at the least, be aware of what Lord Nateno is saying and doing, and to whom.”

“There are parts of the kingdom that might object to some of his behavior,” said his secretary, almost blandly enough to conceal his humor. That was why Lorrit noticed the man in the first place; he was always making the old Lord Treasurer smile during boring meetings.

“If we can keep the country from going back to war with the Deshnadians and vice versa,” Lorrit said, “then I’ll have time to worry about my reputation. Now, what have you brought me?”

*

The unfortunate thing about telling people they could always ask you for help if they felt they were out of their depth was that they did so. In the wake of the Deshnad invasion and subsequent surrender, dealing with the clean up of battles was the easy part. Living with their conquerors and attempting to have some sort of integrated society was difficult, and many local lords gave up, and asked their lord, who in turn asked their lord, and eventually Lorrit had a stack of requests for guidance from what felt like every holding in Kepprala.

Obviously, answering every request individually when so many of them boiled down to “there are Deshnadians here, what do we do now” was a waste of time. But creating any new guidelines or rules felt premature, given that they were still trying to figure things out. And then, despite dumping all the administration into Lorrit’s lap, he doubted trying to rule Deshnadians as though they were Keppralans was likely to work. He told his secretary to handle all the urgent matters they had discussed, and then went to the library.

He spent most of the week in the same manner. In the morning, he would meet with Osett, which was his secretary’s name, to discuss what had come up in correspondence since yesterday morning, then in the afternoon he would go to the library or meet with a scholar. Nateno had looked amused when he learned that was how Lorrit was spending his days, but he didn’t ask, so Lorrit didn’t justify himself. It was a difficult impulse to resist, and one he thought he had gotten over when his mother finally retired to the country. He remained the king, he was responsible for running this country, and if the one person who had any sort of right to control him didn’t ask, he did not have an obligation to explain himself.

And his evenings, of course, were Lord Nateno’s. He would show up to dinner halfway through, or when Lorrit was on his way back to their chambers afterward. He apparently took great pleasure in finding every thing Lorrit enjoyed and doing them until Lorrit could hardly think. He put his hands and mouth on every part of Lorrit’s body. He made Lorrit moan and whimper and cry out, and was obviously satisfied with himself afterward. He used Lorrit thoroughly but not roughly, and it was only a few days before Lorrit found himself looking forward to the evenings, where his duties were straight-forward and easy to enjoy. His body was ready to switch to sex almost the instant he saw Nateno, which would have been embarrassingly obvious in his youth, when shorter jerkins were in fashion. That was one thing breeches had going for them over hose; you had to be much more aroused before it became obvious through your clothes.

Lorrit usually rose before Nateno, though not by much. He would often be gone by the time Lorrit had finished dressing himself and doing his hair, or meet Osett coming in. Osett, thankfully, was not only an accomplished secretary with a dry sense of humor, but had a more stoic demeanor than some of the servants. He treated Nateno much the same way he treated Lorrit, and after that first day, did not display any embarrassment when the topic of Lorrit’s arrangement with Nateno came up.

On Friday evening, Nateno returned to their chambers later than usual. Lorrit had started to worry, which was ridiculous because the man had invaded and conquered his country as if it was no more complicated than a children’s board game, but Osett had informed him there were unrestful Deshnad warlords complaining about their arrangement in much the same way there were Keppralans dissatisfied with surrendering. It was obvious that without Nateno, the Deshnadians would fracture into factions, and as much as Nateno was an accomplished strategist and invader, he would be just as vulnerable to an assassination as any man.

He did return, though, more than an hour after Lorrit finished dinner. He looked tired, but unharmed.

“What happened?” Lorrit asked, forgetting that he wasn’t sure he was allowed to do that.

Nateno smiled at him, and said, “Nothing for you to worry about, my king.”

Traditionally, Lorrit did not trust people who said that to him. It usually meant they were embezzling or something. He doubted that was the case here, but he also had no idea what he could possibly do about it if it was something he should be worried about. He could hardly make Nateno tell him something he didn’t wish to share.

Nateno must have been tired indeed, because he fell asleep after jerking Lorrit off, without attending to his own erection. Lorrit almost felt like he should do something about it, but he didn’t quite dare.

Nateno was still asleep in their bed when Osett arrived the next morning with the breakfast cart. Lorrit had already washed and was fully dressed, but one benefit of talking with Osett in his room was no one else dared interrupt them. Apart from the two servants who kept the room clean and tended the fire, Osett was the only person who seemed willing to venture inside.

He looked at Nateno for a moment, then looked to Lorrit. Lorrit took his breakfast off the cart and sat at the table, so Osett sat across from him and went through the morning’s correspondence as usual. It was more of the new usual, although responses had been arriving from the men he’d called upon to take up the vacant seats in his cabinet of minsters, which meant they could move forward on scheduling the meeting they so desperately needed to have.

By the time they reached the end of the letters and papers in Osett’s file board, Lorrit was finished eating. He set his dishes aside and told Osett, “I believe our initial impulses were right. Integration seems to be the only strategy that has worked historically for longer than a few years. If we allow people to maintain two separate cultures, the kingdom will stay divided and eventually crack under the pressure.” Osett nodded. They had spoken intermittently about Lorrit’s research over the past mornings, so he was familiar with Lorrit’s initial thoughts on the matter. “It will be easy enough to adapt some of our laws to be more familiar to the Deshnadians among us,” he said, “though it may take some work to get them properly implemented.” That was an understatement encompassing what he suspected was months, if not years, of work. Some people would be very resistant to changes, particularly when they came from what they viewed as an uncivilized source. Still, that was work he was suited to, and used to, and knew how to do.

“However,” he went on, “I have no idea how we would go about convincing the Deshnadians to meet us half way and adopt even modified Keppralan ways.” He passed Osett a list he’d made the day before. “From my understanding of Deshnad laws, these are the biggest changes we need to make in order to make them feel comfortable.” And to decriminalize some of their behavior. Granted, he doubted anyone was enforcing those particular laws on their very recent conquerors, but it was important to show they were making an effort, as well as making it easy for his own people to adopt some elements of Deshnad culture.

Osett read through the list, nodding as he went. Lorrit suspected he’d been doing his own research on the topic, which was heartening. Given that his intelligence agents hadn’t even had Deshnad warriors as a potential threat on their minds, few of his ministers or members of the court had much detailed knowledge. He looked up at Lorrit when he finished reading. “I have a suggestion, if I may, your highness?” he said.

“Please,” Lorrit said. He wasn’t certain what Osett’s personal agenda was, but thus far his input had been helpful, and not obviously biased, which was more than could be said for many in the court.

Osett sat up a bit straighter. “Our current adultery laws are harsh and allow for different punishments,” he said, “depending on if the offending party was a man or a woman. It may not have direct bearing on the cultural differences, but I have noticed Deshnadians have a less restrictive view of romance, and having different punishments for different genders may cause an undue strain on some of them.” ‘A less restrictive view of romance’ was a good, polite way of referring to the fact that Deshnadians seemed unconcerned with the gender of their or others’ partners. Nateno was not an exception there, merely representative of his people. The bride comment, evidently, would have sounded less derogatory in Deshnad.

“I see,” Lorrit said. Technically, that did touch upon the gender egality so many of his other changes addressed, though it was less obvious, perhaps, than allowing women to own property and bring their own cases to their lords. It was less likely to cause horrible arguments and protests than changing the inheritance laws, which he suspected was going to be necessary in the future. Deshnad culture did not consider gender nearly as important as strength, and almost half of Nateno’s generals were women. Which reminded him of something he had read and not written down, about Deshnad marriage and divorce. He asked, “How does that work with the divorce laws my father put in place?”

“Also lopsided by gender,” Osett said promptly. “If I recall correctly, it is grounds for divorce if a woman commits adultery, but not when the adulterous party is a man.”

Lorrit wondered vaguely why it was Osett had such detailed knowledge of adultery and divorce law. As Lorrit was unmarried, his parents had been happily married, and lower courts handled all the divorce proceedings, he had never had cause to learn much about them. Oh, in practice he was the legal authority for divorces between nobles of a certain rank, but practically, their families made private arrangements so as not to lose face or cause a scandal. Divorces, the saying went, were for merchants and artisans, whereas the common folk just moved back in with their parents.

“Well that seems unnecessary,” Lorrit said. Since he started studying Deshnad law, he sometimes found his own country’s customs needlessly complicated. Why have what amounted to two different laws when one would do? Deshnad law was, if nothing else, efficient. “Would you be willing to draft a proposal for the changes you think are necessary?”

“Of course, your highness,” Osett said, looking mildly surprised for the first time in a week.

“Wonderful,” Lorrit said. “If we put it in with the other proposals for the cabinet meeting, we might be able to get away without Lord Tellah decrying the state of modern marriage.”

“I suppose you must have dreams as well, your highness,” Osett said, as he added Lorrit’s list to the papers in his file board, and Lorrit laughed. Osett rose, bowed, and left.

“You know,” came Nateno’s voice from the bed, “when I said I didn’t want to deal with bureaucratic shit, I didn’t mean you couldn’t ask me for help.”

“I apologize if we woke you,” Lorrit said. He moved his dishes back to the breakfast cart and put it in the hall. When he closed the door behind him and turned back to the room, Nateno was sitting up in the bed, blankets pooled around his hips and his hair sticking up in all directions. He was–well, he was an attractive man and it was a shame he didn’t have a more appreciative audience.

He covered a yawn with one hand and waved dismissively with the other. “You’re changing the subject,” he said. “I can tell my people to get serious about staying here.”

“I’m certain you can,” Lorrit said, choosing his words carefully. He crossed to the bed and sat down next to Nateno. “However, telling people to change their values is much easier than it is effective.”

Nateno smiled, looking almost fond. Lorrit reminded himself that Nateno was an excellent manipulator, no matter how guileless and straight-forward he pretended to be. He pulled Lorrit into his lap and kissed him in the corner of his eye. “So what do you propose?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Lorrit said. They had not done anything sexual in the morning since that first one, but his body wanted to react a certain way to Nateno’s presence nonetheless. “Honestly, it seems easier to get my people to act more like yours than vice versa.”

Nateno brushed some of Lorrit’s hair back from his shoulder, and kissed his neck. He said, “I suspect that’s only because you know your people better. What’s your biggest concern?”

“Food,” Lorrit said at once, although part of his brain was very focused on the hand Nateno had on his thigh. He brushed that thought aside as best he could. “We were producing a small surplus, and keeping up with our own growth, but we never had enough to export or store for longer than a long winter.” It had been close when he was an adolescent, the year the northern sea had flooded. His father had even had to open up the palace gardens to crop growth, in order to produce enough to get them through that winter after the shorter than normal growing season. He went on, “Short-term, we can import food, but long-term, we’ll need to increase production, and if we want to prevent class separation, we have to get some previously nomadic warriors to become farmers.”

“Hmm,” Nateno said. “My generals do talk a lot of shit about farmers.” He started unbuttoning Lorrit’s doublet from the bottom, brushing his hand repeatedly over Lorrit’s cock. The fabric of his small clothes and hose might as well have not been there for how acutely he felt Nateno’s touch.

“They do,” Lorrit agreed. “I’m not sure how to convince them there’s any glory or honor in it.” Now Lorrit’s doublet was unfastened enough for Nateno to slip his hand inside, and he did so.

“We can think about it,” Nateno said, sliding his hand up Lorrit’s stomach to his chest. Lorrit could feel Nateno’s cock poking into his leg now. He kissed Lorrit’s neck again, and finished it off with a soft nip of his teeth. He murmured, “You look so good dressed up like this.”

“You don’t–” Lorrit cut himself off. It was so hard to think like this.

Nateno chuckled. “I do really think that,” he said.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Lorrit said, which he knew was unwise the second he said it.

“What, then?” Nateno asked, and Lorrit could hear him smiling. “I don’t have to say that?” Lorrit must have given himself away somehow, because Nateno chuckled again. “The whole point of this,” he murmured against Lorrit’s shoulder, “is that I don’t have to do any of it. But clearly someone needs to tell you how pretty you are.”

“I’m not–men aren’t pretty,” he said.

Nateno removed his hand from inside Lorrit’s doublet and resumed unbuttoning it. “We don’t have time to get into this,” he said. He pulled Lorrit’s doublet off him, tossed it off the bed, and pushed Lorrit onto his back. Lorrit wished he could explain what it felt like to be called pretty by a man who looked the way Nateno did, but he was distracted by Nateno straddling his legs and cupping his cock through his distended hose. “But if you’re serious about cultural integration, you may have to accept that men can be pretty.”

Lorrit laughed, and Nateno grinned down at him. Then he untied the waist of Lorrit’s hose, pulled them down, and bent over to take Lorrit’s cock in his mouth.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t had his mouth on Lorrit’s cock. He had, but it hadn’t been for long. That had obviously just been teasing, compared to this. This was the best blowjob Lorrit ever had by a significant margin, and that margin only got wider as it went on. There hadn’t been many areas where he could directly compare his previous sexual experiences with women to being with Nateno, but this was one, and it was heavily in Nateno’s favor.

He spilled straight down the throat of his conqueror, and if trying to run the country as it was now hadn’t been such an annoying and complicated prospect, Lorrit might have felt guilty about how much he enjoyed it.

When he tried to fulfill his end of the bargain and get Nateno off, Nateno showed him the come on his hand and said, “Too late, I’m afraid.” Lorrit didn’t know if anyone else had ever come from sucking him off, but he doubted it.

Laying on the bed next to him, staring at the ceiling and still languid from the strength of his orgasm, Lorrit asked Nateno, “So you think integration is a good idea?”

“Of course,” Nateno said. “It’s what I did.”

That was true, actually. Keeping Lorrit on as king but demonstrating clear influence over him was probably the best move he could have made, in terms of getting Kepprala to view the new arrangement as legitimate. Lorrit was one of them, and had been for so long it was unlikely anyone would doubt his loyalties, but had acknowledged the Deshnad victory. Installing a new ruler or attempting to rule himself would have met with much more resistance.

“You were managing me,” Lorrit said, and if he sounded accusatory, well, he was.

“Nah, I knew you’d get there,” Nateno said. He rolled onto his side to face Lorrit, and tweaked Lorrit’s nose. “You’d never know it if I was managing you, King Lorrit,” he said, and honestly, that was probably a fair point. “Do your people have farming competitions?” he asked.

“Oh,” Lorrit said. “Yes. Yes, the county fairs, and the winners come to the capital, and the winners of that fair get to present their goods to the court.”

“I can make a contest glorious,” Nateno said. He smiled and patted Lorrit’s shoulder. “Let me know if there’s anything else you need.”

*

With a plan in place for how to handle the biggest and most important issues, Lorrit turned his attention to restoring normal operations to the court. He had Osett set some time aside for audiences. He checked in on the emergency appointments he had made in the first few days to replace the wounded or dead, to ensure they were actually suited to the positions. He had an excruciating conversation with the laundry mistress about how quickly he was going through sheets. He oversaw a memorial service for the lives of those lost in the invasion, and spent a lot of time with Osett picking words less inflammatory than “invasion” to use when he gave his speech.

He did continue to end his days early. Before, the time after dinner would have been when he attended social functions or court performances of visiting artists. Those were still few enough of those, with other concerns considered more pressing. And of course, though he had said nothing formal about it, it was clear that it pleased Nateno as well, to have Lorrit to himself in the evenings.

Nateno continued to fuck him every night. It had been years since Lorrit had a relationship where he had sex this frequently. There was usually so much to do, and even when he would have been interested in sex every single day, he had been concerned he might wear out his welcome. It was easy, as a prince or a king, to take more than people really wanted to give, because they were afraid to tell you no. But there was no question in Lorrit’s mind that Nateno would let him know if he somehow overstepped his role, as unlikely as that seemed, as Nateno fell upon him with the same enthusiasm every evening as he had the first.

It didn’t even seem to be the conquering kink Lorrit had first assumed was the reason for his interest, since despite being in firm control of their activities, Nateno seemed uninterested in any gloating or rough handling. It seemed more and more as though Nateno genuinely found him attractive for his own merits, and that was not diminishing with time. It was more confusing to Lorrit than ever.

He did hear a bit of repeated gossip. Osett did not pass along anything that was not politically relevant, but Mitta, the chambermaid for his quarters during the day, had no such compunctions. She was a few years older than Lorrit and had worked in the palace for as long as Lorrit could remember. She said she had heard some talk from the Deshnadians about Lord Nateno’s taste in sexual partners, if Lorrit was interested.

“Of course I’m interested, Mitta,” he said.

She raised her eyebrows at him, and he blushed. She said, “I’m sure you are, highness.” Apparently, every former lover the Deshnadians mentioned had been a man, as far as she could tell. “Those Deshnad names, you know,” she said. “How am I to know if Kane the Crusher is a man or a woman when they all walk around getting into fights and wearing their hair short?” But all the pronouns she’d heard were “he”, and the names she recognized belonged to men at least some of the time.

“And finally,” she said, as she smoothed a new blanket over the bed, “I caught a mention of General Ordoni in a surprising context. So I asked around a little, and it turns out he and Lord Nateno had quite the affair when they were young. To hear some of the Deshnad squires tell it, the whole invasion was meant to be some sort of grand gesture to win back the heart of General Ordoni, because he was Lord Nateno’s first love and he never got over it.”

“I see,” Lorrit said.

“Nonsense, of course, if the state of your sheets is anything to judge by,” Mitta said blandly, and as he made a hasty retreat from his chambers, he heard her cackling on the other side of the door.

General Ordoni was the man Nateno had suggested be treated as the new war minister. He had been by far the most polite of the Deshnad generals when speaking to Lorrit, which was to say, he was not openly dismissive. He didn’t use the correct honorifics, but he called Lorrit sir, and that was something. He had been glad of how reasonable Ordoni seemed, but now he was a little concerned his past with Nateno might affect his judgement of Lorrit and his ideas.

General Ordoni also did not look very much like Lorrit. If he had, Lorrit could have concluded that Nateno had a type, however inexplicable it was to Lorrit. But General Ordoni was solidly built, with penetrating eyes and elegant cheekbones, three features no one had ever ascribed to Lorrit. Perhaps if his treatment of Lorrit was an indication, he was a loyal and obedient man, which Lorrit supposed were qualities he shared. Still, it seemed to him that visually, at least, he was a more fitting match for Nateno than Lorrit’s plain and, frankly, clerkish figure.

Lately, Nateno had taken to having Lorrit on his back, facing him. Lorrit was of two minds about this position, for while it was nice to open his eyes and see Nateno bent over him and to be able to kiss him while he was fucked, he felt it was easier to take it deeper and harder when he was on his hands and knees. Not that Nateno asked for his opinion. Not that he would have been able to say such things aloud, even had he been asked. 

He was more flexible than he had been before the invasion, which he supposed was something.

After Nateno kissed him one last time before pulling out and rolling off him, Lorrit said, “May I ask you a personal question, my lord?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Are you only interested in men?” he asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Nateno said. “Why?”

“I was just curious,” Lorrit said. Strictly speaking, that was true, but not about the question he had asked. He had been fairly certain, even before Mitta’s relayed gossip, that Nateno wasn’t interested in women. At first he had thought it was just how Deshnadians treated men and women the same, but other Deshnad men still exhibited signs of being attracted to women that were, if not immediately familiar, then also not totally foreign to Lorrit. Nateno did not. But it was a good lead-in to asking his real question. “Um,” he said. “Why?”

“Why?” Nateno repeated. “God, I don’t know, I’m not a philosopher.”

Lorrit chuckled. “No, I mean, what is it you find attractive about men?” he asked. “I’m afraid I don’t really understand.”

Nateno laughed. “You don’t,” he said.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed that no Keppralan would ever admit anything like this,” Lorrit said.

“No, they wouldn’t,” Nateno said. He propped himself up on his elbow to look at Lorrit. His short hair, as always after sex or sleeping, looked ridiculous, but it took much less time for him to fix it than for Lorrit to rearrange his own hair. He looked at Lorrit for longer than Lorrit felt was necessary, like he was trying to figure something out. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I have nothing to compare it to.”

“You must know what you find attractive, though,” Lorrit said.

“I suppose,” Nateno said. “But I find different things attractive about different men.” He grinned suddenly. “I could tell you what I find attractive about you,” he said, “but I suspect you would find that excruciating.”

He suspected he would, but it was also what he most wanted to know. “Tell me,” he said, surprising himself.

Nateno’s grin widened. “Hmm,” he said, and reached out to trail his hand up Lorrit’s abdomen. “Your shoulders,” he said. Lorrit frowned, and Nateno laughed. “They’re so broad,” he said, which was ridiculous; Nateno’s own shoulders were broader than Lorrit’s. He said, “And then you’ve got this trim little waist.” He ran his hand up to Lorrit’s throat. “Your neck,” he said, and his fingers bobbed as Loritt swallowed. Lorrit felt his face heating. Nateno murmured, “Your skin. You’re so soft and smooth everywhere, like you were carved from stone.”

“That just means I’ve never done any manual labor or gotten stabbed,” Lorrit said, but his voice was hoarse.

“It’s still beautiful,” Nateno said. He trailed his hand back down to Lorrit’s stomach, and Lorrit couldn’t help the catch in his breath when Nateno’s fingers brushed the hair between his legs. He was hard again, even though he’d come not twenty minutes ago. Nateno said, “Your posture.”

“What?”

“I think that’s the word,” Nateno said, looking thoughtful. “You stand so tall, and take up so much space. You would be such an easy target on a battlefield, but you draw the eye.” He tugged on Lorrit’s hip, and rolled him onto his side facing him. “Even that first day, kneeling in the throne room,” he murmured, “you looked like you’d never knelt in front of anyone in your life.” He had been right, this was excruciating. Nateno slid his hand around to cup Lorrit’s behind. “Your ass,” he said. “God, whoever invented hose should be given a holiday for what they have done to display your ass.”

Lorrit had been unable to look away from Nateno’s face as he went through this litany of Lorrit’s appeal, but now that they were facing each other, he could tell Nateno was also hard again, or at least getting there. “Those are all qualities a woman might have,” Lorrit said.

“But I don’t care when a woman has those things,” Nateno said. When he spoke so quietly, his voice rumbled. “I like the subtler curves most men’s figures have, but I have met women with that body type, and they do nothing for me. And I can appreciate when a woman has a nice ass, but I don’t want to fuck her.”

“I still don’t understand,” Lorrit said.

Nateno slid his hand down the length of Lorrit’s cock. “No?” he murmured. “Hmm.” He leaned down to kiss Lorrit, and they stopped talking.

*

It had been nearly a month since Lorrit had been pulled out of the dungeon and put back in charge of his own kingdom before some of the furthest replacement ministers were able to make it to the palace. That was entirely too long to go without a cabinet meeting after such a major event, in Lorrit’s opinion, but there was no helping distance and how long it took to travel. Technically he could have begun changing laws without any input from them, but being able to do something did not make it a good idea. Besides which, he couldn’t keep track of everything, which was why he had a secretary and a cabinet of ministers in the first place.

As he got dressed in the morning, Lorrit asked Nateno, “Did you plan to attend the cabinet meeting today?”

Nateno was sitting at Lorrit’s vanity to shave. His beard grew in faster than Lorrit’s, but not so fast that he wouldn’t sometimes skip it and go about looking, to Lorrit’s eye, like someone who couldn’t be bothered with personal grooming. Somehow on Nateno, it looked rugged instead of sloppy. If Lorrit went too long without shaving, he just looked like he had something on his face he’d forgotten to wash off.

“I might swing by,” he said. “But don’t wait up for me.”

“I know better than that, at least,” Lorrit said, and Nateno grinned at him in the mirror.

Osett had commandeered one of the University’s presses for a day, and made copies of all the proposals he and Lorrit had come up with. Lorrit didn’t want anyone–mostly Lord Tellah–claiming they hadn’t gotten all the details or that Lorrit was holding any information back. He had been considering, before the invasion, commissioning a press for the palace and either having some of the scribes trained in its operation or adding a couple of printers to the palace staff. Of course, other things were more pressing now, so who knew when that would happen.

The palace had two conference rooms, one of which was much more lavish and intended more to impress visiting dignitaries. The one in which he met with his cabinet was a large room that was almost overwhelmed by the table in it, and was much more suited to spreading out a great deal of paperwork. The ministers and their secretaries filed in at the appointed time, led by General Ordoni, who immediately sat in the furthest corner from the door and didn’t speak to any of the others.

“Ah, Osett,” said the Lord Treasurer as he settled in. He reached in to his vest and pulled out a letter. “This letter came for you, from Lord Yennu. I suppose he hadn’t heard of your new appointment.”

“Oh, it’s good to hear he made it,” Lorrit said. Osett set the envelope to the side of his stack of documents.

The Lord Treasurer smiled wryly. “Presumably, highness,” he said. “I haven’t gotten any correspondence to that effect.”

Lord Yennu was the former Lord Treasurer, the one Osett worked for. It was not surprising that he had written his former secretary and no one else; he had always been eccentric, to put it politely.

Lorrit called the meeting to order, and Osett read through the agenda. Lord Tellah harrumphed at a few of the items, but did not interrupt, at least. Lorrit saw frowns and puzzlement on a few other faces, but no one else interrupted, either. General Ordoni did not look at his papers once, instead watching Osett, and Lorrit had the horrible sudden fear that he couldn’t read Keppra. Would Nateno have mentioned that if Lorrit didn’t ask? He couldn’t say.

“This is rather a lot, your highness,” the Lord Treasurer said. “Although I do appreciate that most of it would cost very little.”

“Financially, perhaps,” said Lord Tellah. “Societally, this is ruinous!”

“More or less ruinous than the Deshnad taking over completely?” Lorrit asked. Lord Tellah flushed. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all a more typical invasion would have seen us all executed.” There was silence around the table. Lorrit went on, “The Deshnad are planning to stay. There is nothing we can do about that. What I plan to do is ensure both peoples actually come through this without the entire kingdom falling apart. I don’t wish to see a revolution or a civil war or a dictatorship. We arrived here with a remarkable lack of bloodshed, considering, and I would like to keep it that way. That means we must all adapt and learn to live together.”

Lord Tellah grumbled. Lorrit ignored it. He asked Osett to start reading through the proposals in more detail, and the meeting continued in a more or less orderly fashion.

“I don’t think we should allow women to own property,” Lord Tellah said, when they got to that proposal. “If a woman has a personal relationship with her lord, without a husband or father mediating, eventually she will expect to be given consideration for her own position. Or she’ll resent that she doesn’t have the opportunity a man does.”

“You think they don’t already?” said Lord Koppin.

“Frankly, Lord Tellah, this change is inevitable,” said Lord Narrin. He had been the head of the University before he accepted Lorrit’s invitation to serve as a minister. He went on, “I have already heard stories of young women joining the local Deshnad troupe, specifically because they have the opportunity to learn and lead.”

“I have a question,” General Ordoni said. It was the first time he’d spoken at all, and everyone turned to look at him, some of the minsters looking as though they had forgotten he was there. “King Lorrit, when are you planning to have the meeting with all the women to decide what rights men will have?”

That caused a smattering of laughter, which turned to confusion and outrage when General Ordoni continued to stare blandly at Lorrit. Lorrit was blessing all the comportment training his parents had put him through, because he would otherwise have been laughing very, very hard. The chattering died down a bit, although Lorrit could see most of his ministers still had no idea how serious Ordoni was or was not.

“I beg your pardon,” Ordoni said gravely, looking around at his new colleagues. “I was under the impression we were supposed to represent every member of the kingdom. Was I mistaken?”

Lorrit let the uncomfortable silence sit a bit. Then he said, “General Ordoni, your point is well taken. Obviously, part of these changes will mean modeling them ourselves, particularly so Keppralan men will get used to the idea that a woman might hold a position of power over them. I would strongly recommend filling at least some of the gaps in your staffs with women. I know, as some of you retire” –he did not look at Lord Tellah, but they all knew he was the oldest one in the room– “I will certainly be looking for women to succeed you.”

“Then, logically, we ought to be changing the inheritance laws as well,” said Lord Koppin. That caused an uproar even worse than Ordoni’s, though Ordoni, of course, did not join in. Some ministers who had previously been silent about the changes got in on it as well, which was just as Lorrit had expected. The other changes were unlikely to directly affect the men in the room, but a change in inheritance law would cause upheaval in every family that had enough to bother passing anything down.

He waited until it quieted enough for him to be heard, and then said loudly, “That’s quite right,” which cut the rest of the chatter off as most of his ministers gaped at him. “However, it is more complicated than simply allowing women to inherit. Deshnad inheritance is not traditionally hereditary at all, and I think we have to consider how to let the two traditions work together.”

“Hmm,” said Lord Narrin. “I see. If we allow women to inherit but at the same time allow the Deshnad path of appointing your own successor, all the Keppralans who are against women inheriting will suddenly wish to adopt Deshnad traditions.” That was precisely what Lorrit was concerned about; how to keep people from cherry-picking just the new laws and traditions that made sense to their old cultural biases, without meaningfully changing their positions. Yes, the Deshnad would undoubtedly be good hunters or herders as well as guardsmen, but that would still keep them separate from the rest of Kepprala.

“There are only so many changes we can make at once,” Lorrit said. “Even if we make them, I expect it will be some time before–“

The door opened. Without a knock, Lorrit expected that meant it was Nateno, so he didn’t bother to work up the annoyance that was clear on some of the faces in the room.

“Hey,” Nateno said. “Thought I’d see how it was going. Don’t mind me.”

“Ah, Osett, would you get Lord Nateno a chair?” Lorrit asked.

“Don’t bother,” Nateno said. “We can share.”

Lorrit did not think they could, but even if he did sometimes dare to question Nateno in private, he would not do so in front of people. He stood and stepped to the side. Nateno sat down, and then pulled Lorrit onto his lap.

Lorrit had a sudden, vivid memory of sitting on his father’s lap in this room when he was a child. Gods, Lord Tellah had been in the room then, too. That man was too old.

“Go on,” Nateno said pleasantly, and Lorrit knew why he was doing this, but that didn’t make it easier. He wrapped his arms around Lorrit’s waist and rested his head on Lorrit’s shoulder.

Lorrit cleared his throat and sat up as straight as he could manage, balanced on Nateno’s legs. “As I was saying,” he said. “I expect it will be some time before we will see widespread adoption of these practices. But we must start encouraging Keppralans to meet Deshnadians halfway if we want them to adopt some of our ways.”

“Do we want that?” Lord Tellah asked.

“It would be stupid not to,” General Ordoni said. “Even aside from all the points King Lorrit made about the sustainability of fractured cultures, if we don’t convince Deshnadians to do something other than fight, they’re going to keep fighting.” Lord Tellah wrinkled his nose, but did not say anything further.

“If you want to keep wolves from attacking your children, you raise their pups yourself,” Lord Narrin said. For some reason, that made General Ordoni smile, which Lorrit had never seen him do. “I believe his highness has made it clear why this measure is necessary. Shall we move on?”

Everyone agreed that they should, and Osett began reading the details of the next proposal. Lorrit stiffened but managed to keep quiet when Nateno slipped one of his hands underneath the bottom of Lorrit’s doublet. Gods, it was one thing to–but he had specifically reserved the right to do this, hadn’t he? He hadn’t, over the last weeks, but it was foolish to assume that he wouldn’t.

Lorrit struggled to keep his attention on Osett and the proposal. Nateno was rubbing Lorrit’s cock through his hose, slowly, almost as if absent-mindedly, which Lorrit didn’t believe for a second. It had been a month since any real show of Deshnad power in the capital, and few of his cabinet of ministers had been in the throne room when Lorrit submitted publicly to Nateno. This was obviously a reminder demonstration that he had Lorrit under his control. It was probably necessary, at this first cabinet meeting with the most important men in his court, but that didn’t mean Lorrit had to enjoy it.

Well. It didn’t mean he had to like it. Unfortunately, a month of quite satisfactory sex meant his body had been responding to Nateno’s proximity even before he started fondling him under his clothes. There was no doubt in Lorrit’s mind that Nateno could bring him off right here, if he wanted, with little trouble. Maddeningly, that made his cock harder.

There were only a few questions about this one, and the other ministers answered them before Lorrit needed to. They seemed to understand the goal now, and even Lord Tellah did not object. Osett moved on without Lorrit expressly telling him to, after a glance that doubtlessly revealed Lorrit’s distraction.

The next proposal was the one decriminalizing same-gender sexual activity, which almost made Lorrit want to laugh. Osett read the details out, and was met with silence.

Lord Koppin cleared his throat. “Well, the reasoning for that one is fairly obvious, I think.”

“I suppose we must,” Lord Tellah said, although he did not sound happy about it.

Some of the ministers had clearly noticed what was happening beneath the skirt of Lorrit’s doublet. Lord Narrin was blushing slightly, and a few of the others were looking steadfastly at their paper, as if they were terribly interested in the minutia Osett had just read to them. General Ordoni’s eyes shifted from Osett to Lorrit for just a second, and he rolled his eyes.

Osett moved on, this time without even glancing at Lorrit. With the ministers more or less on board with the agenda, Lorrit wondered if he could cut the meeting short. Or would that defeat the point of Nateno’s actions? Gods, what if he tried to dismiss everyone and Nateno told them to stay? Then they’d all know what was happening, and why, and worse, Lorrit would know they knew.

He couldn’t even track what Osett was saying. His cock was straining against his hose, and it was impossible to control his flush. He was barely managing to keep quiet and still, and he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to maintain even that much composure.

“Your highness?” someone asked, politely concerned. Lorrit had no idea what he’d asked.

Osett said, “His highness feels it’s a necessary measure to prevent undue stress on our Deshnad guests.” How much, he wondered, was he paying Osett, and could he afford to increase it?

“Alright, folks,” Nateno said, sounding abominably relaxed, especially considering he was almost as hard as Lorrit, “I think that’s all the time his highness has for you today.”

Lorrit heard someone mutter, “Thank the gods,” and saw General Ordoni roll his eyes again as he stood up. He had never seen most of those men clear a room as quickly as they did now.

“Um,” Osett said. He seemed unclear as to whether he should address Lorrit or Nateno, and looked between them. “Should I…go?”

Lorrit had specifically told him he wanted to talk to him after the rest of the cabinet left. Obviously, that had been before he knew Nateno would disrupt his entire day.

“I suppose you can stay and watch, if you want,” Nateno said, and Lorrit could not keep himself from groaning. He slumped back against Nateno’s chest, and didn’t notice if Osett stayed or went. Nateno pulled loose the tie on his hose and shoved his hand inside to pull out Lorrit’s cock. He brought Lorrit off as roughly as he ever had, and Lorrit, for his part, came quickly.

Nateno pushed Lorrit forward, so he was bent over the table, and Lorrit heard him rip out the laces on his breeches. He did not, in fact, force his way into Lorrit’s ass, though that was what Lorrit was expecting. He pushed his cock between Lorrit’s legs, so Lorrit squeezed his thighs together. It was not exactly what he wanted, but it was Nateno bent over behind him panting into his ear, and his cock sliding against Lorrit’s balls, so it was good enough, he supposed.

Nateno spent all over the crotch of Lorrit’s smallclothes and hose. He’d have to either walk bare-legged and bare-assed back to his chambers, carrying his soiled clothes, or he’d have to put them on and walk like that. Lorrit wondered if Nateno would be ready to go another round in the middle of the day, the way he usually was at night. Gods, he really shouldn’t enjoy this so much, but he had been in real danger of spending in his smalls like a pubescent child in front of his cabinet full of old men, so it was too late to pretend he didn’t.

He tried to roll over, and Nateno whined. But he took enough of his own weight to let Lorrit wriggle around underneath him until he was on his back, and then Lorrit leaned up to kiss him.

Nateno pulled away from his kiss much too soon, and murmured, “I would apologize for doing that, but you seem to have enjoyed it.”

Lorrit blinked. “Why would you apologize?”

Nateno frowned, and pushed off of Lorrit and the table. Lorrit got the sense that he’d done something wrong, but he couldn’t imagine Nateno minding a simple question when they were alone.

“Oh God,” Nateno said, starting. “You actually stayed.”

Lorrit followed Nateno’s gaze, and saw Osett was seated near the door. So they hadn’t been alone. No, Nateno hadn’t known that; what was his problem?

“You did say I could,” Osett said, mildly, as if it was perfectly ordinary to stay and watch your employer get screwed over a table. He didn’t seem bothered, but then, he also didn’t seem particularly aroused, and that was the main reason Lorrit would expect someone to want to watch other people having sex.

“Well, yeah,” Nateno said. “I guess I did.” He hadn’t expected Osett to actually stay, Lorrit realized. He’d been teasing Lorrit, and maybe Osett too, a bit. He frowned down at his breeches, because he had, as Lorrit had figured from the sound, managed to pull the laces free of their eyelets, and had to re-lace them. “Enjoy the show, then?”

“It was very informative,” Osett said, and his dispassionate response was worse than if he’d said something disparaging about Lorrit directly. “I wondered if I could ask you a question, my lord.”

“You didn’t have to stay and watch to ask me a question,” Nateno said.

“I would rather ask this in private,” Osett said.

Nateno nodded, as if he expected that. He finished lacing his breeches and sat down on the nearest chair. He hadn’t even looked at Lorrit.

Osett said, “I have no idea how to meet men.”

Nateno laughed. “Well, it should at least be easier now.”

At first Lorrit didn’t know what they were talking about. Osett surely met men all the time. In fact, this morning was the first time he had met some of the ministers. But then he realized why it might be easier now, and why he might want to have a conversation in private with Nateno, and was surprised. He never would have known.

Of course, if Nateno had not invaded, he never would have known, even if he had eventually swiped Osett from the Lord Treasurer. He never would have mentioned it where someone like the king might hear, if he mentioned it at all.

“No offense, my lord,” Osett said, “but it’s a frightening prospect to walk into a group of Deshnadians and hope one of them would be interested in fucking me.”

Nateno laughed again, and said, “No, that’s fair.”

“I was wondering if you could, I don’t know, point me in the right direction,” Osett said.

“Well, if you’re only interested in sex, you could ask Ordoni,” Nateno said. He made a thoughtful face. “Actually, even if you’re looking for a relationship, you could ask Ordoni. He probably has a better idea than I do who’s available.”

“General Ordoni?” Osett asked. “The one who was just here?”

“He’s not as scary as he looks,” Nateno said. Osett didn’t say anything, but he must have done something, because Nateno laughed again. “Oh, then I guess it’s your lucky day.”

Osett’s skin was too dark to show a flush, but he froze and his shoulders stiffened, so Lorrit suspected he was blushing. “Thank you my lord I will take my leave now,” he said, and slipped out the door.

Nateno shook his head, and finally looked back at Lorrit. His smile faded, and Lorrit’s feeling that he had done something wrong strengthened. It settled uncomfortably in his chest, like something stuck on the way to his stomach and poking into him. Nateno said, “You should probably go get changed.”

“Right,” Lorrit said. “Of course.” He slipped off his shoes so he could take off his hose and small clothes, but then put the hose back on. The small clothes had taken the brunt of the mess, and were now cold and slimy, but the hose were tolerable. Carrying his dirty small clothes through the halls was not a pleasant prospect, but at least he wouldn’t be doing it half-dressed. He put his shoes back on and straightened his doublet. Usually Nateno would have made some kind of comment about something, about wearing dirty underthings or not wanting Lorrit to get dressed again, but he didn’t. When he glanced at him, he was at least looking at Lorrit, but it was so much more solemn than the playful or lusty ways he was used to.

He fully intended to take his paperwork and his dirty small clothes and leave with what little dignity he had left, but then he found himself asking, “Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh, God,” Nateno muttered, and put his head in his hands. 

Now that was alarming. In the month they’d spent together, Lorrit had occasionally seen Nateno express regret, but it hadn’t been like this. “Lord Nateno?” he said. He wanted to put a hand on his shoulder, but he wasn’t sure he should.

Nateno took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No,” he said, with his head still in his hands. “You did nothing wrong. I just….Maybe we should revisit the terms of our arrangement.”

“What? Why?” When Lorrit had felt like his intended path for the day had been diverted earlier, when Nateno pulled him onto his lap in the cabinet meeting, he hadn’t felt nearly as lost and confused as he did now. It was odd how one unexpected change could be sort of fun, and another could be devastating. “But you said I did nothing wrong.”

Nateno huffed a laugh that did not sound at all joyful. “You didn’t,” he said. “I did.”

“What?” Lorrit asked. “No you didn’t.”

Again, Nateno laughed that shadow of a laugh. He looked up at Lorrit, and he looked tired, suddenly. “Of course I did,” he said. “Most of it I had to do, but people generally agree invading another country is bad.”

“It wasn’t wrong to ask for me,” Lorrit said. “It worked very well.”

“It was selfish,” Nateno said. “And I told you I knew better than to ask for your heart, but I wanted it anyway.” He shook his head. “I should have stuck to my original plan,” he said.

The horrible feeling of something stuck in Lorrit’s chest had gotten worse. It had gotten bigger, somehow. It felt like an effort to breathe around it. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I know,” Nateno said. “I’m sorry.”

“Then explain,” Lorrit said, and it was not really an accident that it came out in his kingliest voice.

Nateno looked taken aback, as well he might. “I’m in love with you,” he said.

“What in all the hells does that–” Lorrit stopped himself and took a deep breath. “You cannot possibly expect me to believe this entire meltdown is about that,” he said. “You must have known that before just now.”

Now Nateno looked puzzled, which was probably not an improvement but felt like one to Lorrit. At least he didn’t look so sad. “Yes, of course,” he said. “But I thought–or, maybe, hoped–” He shook his head. “It’s not fair to you,” he said.

“What the fuck are you talking about,” Lorrit said, and now Nateno looked almost alarmed. “What did you think, or maybe hope?”

Nateno closed his eyes and winced. “God,” he muttered. He opened his eyes, but didn’t look at Lorrit’s face. He’d spent a month being the most directly speaking man Lorrit had ever dealt with, and now trying to get a complete sentence out of him was like making soup out of a rock. He said, “I thought it was possible you could have feelings for me, even though I forced you into this.”

“You didn’t force me,” Lorrit said. “I agreed. I didn’t even try to negotiate.”

“Did you think you could negotiate?” Nateno asked. “You thought you were going to be executed.”

“I didn’t think you were going to have me executed after an offer like that,” Lorrit said. “I still agreed.”

“Agreeing to something is not the same thing as wanting it,” Nateno said.

“I’m sorry, did it seem like I didn’t want it when you fucked me over the table just now?” Nateno opened his mouth to respond, and Lorrit shook his head and said, “Stop, stop, that’s not the point!” He rubbed his temple. “Do I have this right, that this entire thing has been because you think I don’t–have feelings for you?”

“You don’t,” Nateno said.

“I think I do, actually,” Lorrit said. He hadn’t thought about it–he’d been deliberately not thinking about it, in fact–but that was what that stabbing feeling in his chest was about, wasn’t it? That was fear of rejection. He didn’t want Nateno to stop this. He didn’t want Nateno to leave him alone.

“You can’t,” Nateno said, but he seemed less certain.

“What, because this started as a hostage situation?” Lorrit asked. “I’m royalty. Have you read any Keppralan history? Half my ancestors were hostages. I’m fairly certain some of them were happy eventually.”

Nateno opened his mouth to say something, frowned, and closed it. The frown deepened. “But earlier,” he said. “You asked why I would apologize.”

“What?” Lorrit said. He thought back over the conversation, and then realized that had been the moment he first felt he’d done something wrong. He didn’t understand why it was bothering Nateno, though. “Oh, yes. I’m still not sure why you would apologize.”

Nateno stared at him. Slowly, he said, “It is generally considered rude to fuck someone in front of other people.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Lorrit snapped. “But why would you apologize to me when you obviously know how much I–” He blushed. “How much I like it when you do things like that.”

Nateno kept staring at him, but gradually he started to smile. It was a relief, even though he looked rather manic. He laughed, and said, “Oh my God.” He laughed some more. When he calmed down, he said, “I’m the idiot, actually.”

“Obviously,” Lorrit said. He had been well past thinking the worst of Nateno for quite a while. He’d thought that would be obvious, but apparently even Nateno sometimes doubted himself. He asked, “Are we done with this nonsense, then? You’re not going to leave me?”

“Nah, you’re stuck with me now,” Nateno said. He reached out his hand. Lorrit stepped past it and pushed him back so he could sit on his lap. He smiled up at Lorrit. “It’s probably good we talked about it,” he said.

“I hated it,” Lorrit said. He leaned down to kiss him. When he pulled back, he said, “If you’re going to scare me to death, I would appreciate it if it wasn’t in front of my secretary next time.”

“I honestly didn’t know he was there,” Nateno said. He kissed Lorrit quickly. When he pulled back, he grinned and said, “You know, as much as I like having a pet king, it was pretty sexy when you got all serious and yelled at me.”

“I suppose if you want me to, I could do it again,” Lorrit said. He had felt strange, in the past, being commanding in bed. He didn’t think it would be as much of a problem with Nateno, possibly because he and Nateno were on more equal footing than he had been with his previous lovers. Which was a strange thought, but it was true. “However. In the interest of talking about things,” Lorrit said, not quite looking him in the eye, “I think I really prefer being bossed around and held down.”

“You don’t say,” Nateno murmured.

Lorrit flushed. “Shut up, you thought I thought you were a monster.”

“A thousand apologies, my king,” Nateno said, and Lorrit laughed.

They kissed again, and Nateno wrapped his arms around Lorrit’s waist. When Nateno pulled away, he said, “I probably don’t have to tell you this, but in the interest of talking about things–“

“It is politically expedient if people continue to think I am not in love with you,” Lorrit said.

Nateno smiled. “Right,” he said. “At least for a while.” He tucked a stray lock of Lorrit’s hair behind his ear. “I guess I shouldn’t have worried about that, given how much you hate talking about your feelings.”

“Most people are not terribly comfortable thinking of royalty as people,” Lorrit said. That was true; he might have felt it was less excruciating to talk about his feelings if he’d had more practice. Or maybe not; how was he to know? “And to be fair,” he said, “if they did, they might wonder what made us special, which as you know, would be risky, because the answer is nothing.”

“An interesting thing for a king to admit,” Nateno said.

“It’s not as though I’d say it to anyone else,” Lorrit said. He couldn’t, really. They’d think he was either fishing for compliments by being falsely humble, or daring someone to agree so he could punish them for treason. “You know,” he said, thinking, “this could actually be an excellent opportunity to eliminate hereditary rule.” Nateno raised his eyebrows. “Leading by example,” Lorrit said. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this before. Granted, he’d been distracted with the thousand other things he needed to consider. He went on, “I could follow the Deshnad tradition of choosing and appointing an heir. It wouldn’t take as long as having one the old-fashioned way, which would be reassuring at this point; people were already complaining I didn’t have enough family left alive to not have children. And with your system, there’s no chance of getting stuck with some useless layabout just because he’s my son. Plus, I wouldn’t need to get married.”

“I guess people wouldn’t think you’d lost your mind and try to depose you as long as I’m around,” Nateno said.

“Well, yes,” Lorrit said. His legs were falling asleep, sitting on Nateno’s lap like this, but he didn’t want to move. “It does rather rely on having you as the bad guy. To be fair, so do the other reforms.”

Nateno shrugged. “If I couldn’t live with that, I wouldn’t have led an invasion.” He smiled and said, “You wouldn’t have to get married, huh?”

Lorrit flushed again. “Well,” he said. “It seems silly to involve another person if we don’t have to. I hardly have time for a wife.”

“I’m not about to complain,” Nateno said.

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2 thoughts on “Bending the Knee

  1. I’m not generally a fan of unbalanced power dynamics, but I had a good feeling about this one, and was delighted to be proved right

    They make a rather sweet pair in the end!

  2. My thought process went approximately as follows: “These names seem familiar, I know these names, OH, this is expanding on that Osett-focused story from a few issues ago!” Getting the chance to spend more time with King Lorrit and see him (and Nateno) in a far more developed light was welcome. It’s interesting seeing the actual government actions taken to make the integration of Keppralans and Deshnadians actually work; Lorrit wanting to bring about more legitimate change instead of “welp, country’s conquered, guess I’ll go sulk” is a lot more proactive than your typical revenge-minded conquered noble.

    Any time people think about where the food comes from for their fantasy stories it fills my heart with light, not gonna lie.

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