Being a True Account of the Daring and Valour of Lord Lisandro Reyez de Villena
by Shikkoku no Suzu (漆黒のスズ)
Lord Lisandro Reyez de Vallena rested his chin on his hand and looked glumly at the little dais where Sehzad, court poet to King Lupe of Ilores, was presenting his latest work, an epic poem called ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’.
“ A Queen of royal blood the crown did wear;
But a daughter only did she bear.
Not so the rest; for several mothers bore
To Ellorn’s god-like king, several sons, and more.
But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,
No true succession could their seed attend.
Of these the false Lord Juan was worst:
A name to all succeeding ages curst.”
In spite of himself, Lisandro got lost admiring the Savasko poet’s glossy black curls, which were tamed by a gold circlet that brought out the flecks of amber in his heavy-lashed brown eyes. Sehzad held himself confidently, one hand on his chest as the other gestured to emphasise the highs and lows in his recitation. Sehzad was only in his late twenties, but already he had a deep, melodic voice with a slight Savasko accent in the vowels that wrapped around Lisandro and made him warm and shivery.
“Juan was fine of form and fair of face,
An adornment to the King of his race,
But possessed a fiery soul, which working out its way,
O’erleaped the boundaries of its clay.”
“Forgive me for noticing,” said someone at his elbow, and Lisandro turned around, brushing his chin-length black hair out of his eyes to see the speaker. Lord Valentin sat down beside him and continued, “But it seems to me that Lord Juan bears a startling resemblance to your honoured self.”
“Do you think anyone else has realised?”
“Oh, without doubt,” said Valentin. He tilted his chin towards the dais. “Lovers’ tiff?”
“We’re not lovers.” Lisandro sighed. “And don’t say that so loudly. We’re not in Jovan.”
” ‘Til Juan’s fresh glories, which once shone so bright,
Grew stale and tarnished within daily sight.
Became so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome.
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long:
But in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.”
“Oh dear.” Valentin leaned back in his chair. “You must have made Sehzad angry somehow.”
“I did,” said Lisandro, with the air of one baring his neck for the blade. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Into Valentin’s understanding silence he continued, “Yes, well. I tried to, ah, persuade Sehzad to include some favourable references to myself in the history of Ilores that my father the King has him writing. He didn’t take it particularly well.”
Valentin gestured to the room of Ilorian nobles all watching Sehzad’s confident recitation with expressions ranging from confusion to curiosity. “That is manifest,” he said. “If you will take advice from one with—only slightly, I grant you—more experience in these things, you should try and mend fences as soon as possible. You do not want a poet for an enemy. Their slurs have a way of following you, even when you have gone to the place beyond death.”
“Your sage advice comes a little too late, Lord Valentin.”
“Now, now, it’s never too late. Start with an apology and go from there.” Valentin stood. “Excuse me.” Lisandro watched as Valentin made a beeline for Lisandro’s half-sister Princess Isabella.
“He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied;
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”
Lisandro buried his head in his hands. The recitation took another quarter-turn of the clock, at which point Sehzad paused, waited for Lisandro to look up, and then said with great relish, “Your majesty, Princess Isabella, my lords and ladies, with your consent, it would be my great pleasure to debut the conclusion of the tale of Juan the Bastard next week.”
The occupants of the room all clapped and shouted congratulations at the poet, but he looked only at Lisandro, his eyes bright with triumph. Lisandro reached for his cup and raised it in rueful salute, and Sehzad turned away.
Lisandro realised that his father’s chancellor was beckoning him over to the throne. “Oh, Gods spare me,” he muttered, and stood.
“Lisandro,” said King Lupe by way of greeting. “Another excellent offering from our court poet, don’t you think?”
“Yes, your majesty,” said Lisandro, dropping to his knee and bowing his head.
“Of course, I had expected to be hearing more of the history tonight, so I do wonder where this burst of inspiration has come from.” Lupe raised him with a hand on his shoulder. “Should I be concerned about where this tale is going to go next week?”
“No, your majesty.” Lisandro sought for the words. “I—ah—there is some disagreement—the poem is a satire. There is no truth.”
“Lisandro, there is always some truth in satire,” said King Lupe, then raised his hand to beckon the poet over. “Sehzad, such a pleasure to listen to your recitations as always. We cannot wait to hear the conclusion of this poem. We hope it will please us.”
Sehzad bowed. “Thank you, your majesty. I shall strive to make it worthy of the hearing.”
Lupe nodded, and Sehzad backed away without acknowledging Lisandro.
* * *
Surrounded thus with friends of every sort,
Deluded Juan arrived at court.
Impatient of high hopes, urged with renown,
And fired with near relation to the crown:
The admiring throng were dazzled with surprise,
And on his goodly person fed their eyes.
Sehzad pushed his hair out his eyes as he hunched over the writing desk and scribbled lines, marking each iamb, the margin of the paper full of trialled and discarded rhymes.
He saw de Vallena in his mind’s eye, raising that cup in ironic salute, his glossy hair caressing his shoulders as if it couldn’t bear to be parted from such a perfectly wrought form. Yes, thought Sehzad, I won this round. But no heroic couplet could salve the humiliation of realising that de Vallena was only courting him because of the history. Poor foolish Sehzad, who had thought for a moment that the son of King Lupe of Ilores would condescend to love a Savasko ex-slave.
There was a knock on the door of his little apartment and Sehzad went over and opened it. He was not surprised to see de Vallena in the hallway, but still his breath caught in his throat at the sight of one whom he had truly called an adornment of his father’s court.
“May I come in?” said de Vallena.
Sehzad stepped back from the door to let him pass. “Would you like to hear an excerpt from the conclusion of Lord Juan the Bastard?” he asked, returning to the desk.
“Thus, formed by Nature, furnished out with arts,
He glid unfelt into their secret hearts:
Then, with a kind compassionating look,
And sighed, bespeaking pity e’er he spoke.”
“You are a very good poet.” De Vallena turned around, and Sehzad was reminded that the youth was several years younger than Sehzad himself. He felt a moment of shame: it was not becoming of him to be persecuting a young man who could only just grow a beard and who surely couldn’t be expected to know better.
Then Sehzad’s resolve hardened. If de Vallena couldn’t have been expected to know better before, then Sehzad would make sure he never carelessly trampled another’s heart again. “Yes, my pen brought me my freedom, so I have striven to keep it sharp,” he said. “May I enquire the reason for your presence in my chambers, your excellency?”
“I came to apologise.”
“For what?” Sehzad rifled through the papers, making a show of putting them in order.
“For trying to… for trying to influence you to look favourably upon me in your history.”
“Influence,” Sehzad echoed hollowly.
“It is very difficult being the illegitimate son of a king,” said de Vallena. “I don’t want to get cast-off in the refuse-heap of history because I didn’t distinguish myself in battle like Raimundo or sit at my father’s right hand like Adan.”
“Yes, your lot is difficult indeed: fed well, pampered, all the finest clothes, living in comfortable chambers, and all the leisure in the world to dabble in whatever you like until you find something you enjoy. Whereas, I, by contrast, was merely torn from Savaskiye when I was ten years old and sold by Ilorian slavers.” He put his hand to his chin in an exaggerated gesture. “Of course—we are kindred spirits, and I see why you thought that if you seduced me I could not fail to give you pride of place in the history I am writing to thank King Lupe for emancipating me and giving me this place at his court, which is entirely dependent on my producing poetry that he likes.”
De Vallena hung his head. “When you put it like that…”
“If you’ll excuse me, I promised King Lupe the rest of this poem by next week.”
“Of course. I’ll leave you in peace,” said de Vallena.
He looked so dejected as he made his way to the door that Sehzad couldn’t help but say, “I appreciate the apology, your excellency.”
The half-smile he received in return made him feel as if he had brought his hands close to the hearth fire on a cold night.
* * *
“No luck?” said Valentin, coming across Lisandro prowling around the gardens.
“How did you know?” said Lisandro.
“There are thunder clouds rolling across your face.”
“Hm. I received a well-deserved snub, actually.” Lisandro sighed and concentrated his attention of a flower box of roses in front of him.
Valentin’s voice was gentle as he asked, “Why does this vex you so? Is it just the embarrassment of being the target of Sehzad’s satire? You are not the first, nor will you be the last, and if you want my opinion, ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’ is far from his best work.”
Pressing his lips together, Lisandro looked at Valentin out of the corner of his eye. Valentin was Jovani; they were well known as a race to be permissive of such things as like-to-like relationships. Perhaps Valentin would not be so disgusted if Lisandro told him the truth. “I, well… I tried to seduce him.”
“I see.” Valentin didn’t sound surprised or disgusted. Perhaps that was his diplomat’s training. “I had heard rumours that Sehzad favoured men.”
Lisandro nodded. “Are there also rumours about me?”
“Only from those who wondered why you refused to marry Lady Beatriz, when you seemed to get along so well. They faded quickly.” He cocked his head. “When you say ‘tried to seduce’…?”
“He realised quickly what I was about. We only kissed.”
Valentin hesitated, then said delicately, “And would you like to kiss him again?”
“How dare you,” said Lisandro. “The Gods proscribe such things between men. It is all right for a heathen like Sehzad, but I am an anointed Iloresian and the very thought makes me ill.”
“Would you like to try that again with more conviction?”
“Good day, Lord Valentin,” Lisandro huffed.
As he stomped away, Valentin said, “You know, if you ever need to leave Ilores, I would happily provide you with a letter of introduction to the Emperor of Jovan.”
* * *
Not for the first time, Sehzad caught himself thinking about the evening when Lisandro de Vallena had come into his chamber. His quill hovered over the page as he remembered the young lord with his collar unlaced, lit by the flickering lamplight, murmuring, “I love the sound of your voice.” A clumsy seduction that had worked just long enough for Sehzad to imagine it was genuine.
Then the realisation: like all the other functionaries and toadies, Lisandro was just looking for his place in history. Only the method had been different. Well, a different method required a different retribution. All the others would be forgotten, but Lisandro would get his wish: he would be remembered.
Lord Juan, grown weary to possess
A lawful fame, and lazy happiness;
Disdained the golden fruit to gather free,
And instead bent his will to shake the tree.
Sehzad hesitated. There had been the slump of Lisandro’s shoulders when he had come to apologise. Then he remembered the softness of Lisandro’s lips against his, slanting upwards, opening. Sliding his hands around Lisandro’s slender hips. Not believing his good fortune that this beautiful youth favoured him, even though such favour was against Iloresian law and punishable by exile.
His fingers felt the ghost sensation of sliding through Lisandro’s silky straight hair, and he threw down the quill and stomped out of his chambers in search of a distraction.
* * *
Lisandro was shaken out of the contemplation of a seven-volume history of the Vejasta dynasty when the door to his father’s library was shoved open, and in strode Sehzad. He checked when he saw Lisandro, then made an annoyed noise. “How is it that the place where I go to escape the thought of you is where I find the reality?” he said.
Lisandro lifted and dropped his shoulders. “I was just reading about Fanuco the Fair,” he said. “It seems that all he did that rated a mention was to be consistently handsome over his four-year reign, until he was deposed by his brother.”
“Your excellency, you are scarcely twenty-two years old. You have many years to do something that poets will sing about. If you concentrate on being a good and loyal servant to your father the King, the rest will follow.”
Sighing, Lisandro nodded.
“And if nothing else, perhaps I will remember to mention Lisandro the Lovely in a footnote.”
“Lisandro the Lovely?” he echoed, looking at Sehzad. He saw Sehzad’s throat working.
“Well, you are quite lovely. And don’t pretend you don’t know it.”
“Has anyone ever told you how handsome you are?” said Lisandro.
Sehzad’s brows drew down and he put his hands up, denying. “Don’t go down that path again, your excellency. I promise you, my ire is spent. I will not embarrass you further with the rest of my poem.”
“Do what you like,” said Lisandro. “We both know I deserved it. I’ve been thinking about our kiss.”
“So have I.” The admission was pulled out of Sehzad. The distance between them yawned, so Lisandro closed his book and set it aside, then crossed the floor. Sehzad backed up until he was against the door, and Lisandro stepped close and wound his fingers in Sehzad’s short curls. He felt Sehzad’s hands go to his hips, the warmth of his palms reaching Lisandro’s flesh through the layers of fabric.
“Your excellency, do you even know what you’re offering?” said Sehzad.
“Do you?” said Lisandro.
“I’ve a fair idea. I was a slave, remember?” There was a flicker of a shadow in Sehzad’s eyes, and then it was gone.
Lisandro put his hands on Sehzad’s cheeks and looked into those brown eyes. “No,” he said. “That’s not it at all.”
The breath went out of Sehzad’s lungs in a long sigh that tickled Lisandro’s cheek. He lowered his head, and their lips brushed. They parted, Lisandro let out a small breath, and then he kissed Sehzad again, in earnest this time, angling his head so their lips could meet and open, and seeking out Sehzad’s tongue with his own.
He pressed himself up against Sehzad, and felt Sehzad’s hands on his back tighten then release, and Sehzad went still. Lisandro broke the kiss and looked up at him. Sehzad’s lips were red and shining, and his eyes unfocused. “What’s wrong?”
“I…” Sehzad wiped his hand across his mouth. “Forgive me, but I…”
Lisandro stepped back. “What is it? Do you think this is still about that poem?”
“I don’t want to wonder if it is. If… with your excellency’s consent—I am due to deliver the rest of ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’ in two days. If you still wish to…” Sehzad’s gesture encompassed the space between them and all that had just occurred. “Then I will look for you that night. And if not, then let no more be said about it.”
* * *
“At Lord Juan’s words the Gods of Ellorn gave consent;
And peals of thunder shook the firmament.
Henceforth a series of new time began,
The mighty years in long procession ran:
Once more fair Alloria was restored,
And willing nations knew their lawful lord.”
Sehzad’s hands shook as he finished the poem. He hid this by pressing the palms together and bowing, letting the applause wash over him and cover the sound of his racing heart. For the first time in the evening, he sought out Lisandro, who was leaning against a pillar towards the back of the room, looking careless and regal and unreadable. Lisandro raised his cup in an echo of his gesture the previous week, and Sehzad nodded in return.
“A masterpiece as always,” drawled Valentin of Jovan, who had stepped close to the dais. “I confess I was not enamoured of the first part, but you ended it well.”
“My thanks, Lord Valentin,” said Sehzad. On being summoned, he stepped down from the platform and made his way through the court to the King.
Lupe echoed Valentin’s congratulations and added, “I gather you and my son have resolved your differences.”
Sehzad bowed, deeply grateful that his bronzed skin hid the blush. “Yes, your majesty. My apologies.”
King Lupe waved that away. “I am happy for ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’ to be sung by bards throughout Ilores, but perhaps you might remove some of the passages that make Juan sound quite so much like Lord Lisandro, hm?”
“Of course, your majesty.”
“And I look forward to hearing excerpts from Volume V of the history next week.” King Lupe raised his eyebrows.
“I shall work night and day to prepare something worthy of your majesty,” said Sehzad, and, dismissed, bowed out of the King’s presence.
After the recitation came the feast, and Sehzad was surrounded by people quizzing him on the origins of ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’, pressing him to recite their favourite parts, and inquiring as to the progress on his history. After a while, talk moved on more generally to the latest scandals in Ilores, and a new play that was being staged the next week that featured one of King Lupe’s mistresses.
One one of the lords, roaring drunk, climbed onto the table and, to the cheers of his coterie, commenced a poem that began,
“In fair Ilores, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in any kingdom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Peace is his aim: his gentleness is such,
That love he loves, for he loves fucking much.”
At that point Sehzad figured he was no longer needed to provide entertainment, and fled the chamber. As he left, he glanced over and saw Lisandro whispering something to Lord Valentin. Lisandro didn’t look up as Sehzad left.
Sehzad told himself that he shouldn’t expect Lisandro to appear. He sat down at his narrow desk, opened the folio that held all of his notes about Volume V of the history, and bent his mind to studying them. There was a noise in the hallway outside his door and he froze. It moved on, and he looked back at the folio only to realise how false his attention had been; he couldn’t recall a single thing he had read.
He pushed the folio away and went to stand by the window, looking through the gauze drapes at the patch of sky visible above the castle wall. He drew the sides of his over-robe close to his neck and leaned against the sill, pushing up his sleeve to run his thumb absently over the struck-off slave brand.
Perhaps it would be a relief if Lisandro didn’t come. Lord Lisandro Reyes de Villena was the King’s son and a grandee of Ilores. What if Sehzad displeased him? What if Lisandro tired of Sehzad? Then he might well be stripped of his position and cast out of Ilores.
Still, when someone knocked on the door, Sehzad pushed away from the window and nearly stumbled in his haste to answer it. Lisandro stood on the other side, looking a touch disheveled.
“I am sorry to keep you waiting,” he said. “I had to wait until his majesty left. We need to be circumspect.”
“Of course, your excellency,” said Sehzad. “Please, come in.” After all, Lisandro, too, was risking public shame and exile to be here. Whatever was happening, they bore the risk together. Sehzad felt a smile come unbidden to his lips as he closed and latched the door.
“Sehzad, stop calling me ‘your excellency’,” said Lisandro, turning around. “I’ve been calling you by your given name since we met. I would very much like to hear mine on your lips.”
“Lisandro,” said Sehzad, feeling his face heat up.
Lisandro closed his eyes in an expression of bliss. “Mm,” he said. “Your voice covers me like a hot bath.”
Sehzad ducked his head and smiled.
Lisandro reached for Sehzad, and Sehzad came willingly into his arms. They kissed and stumbled backwards towards the bed. Sehzad got his arms around Lisandro and crushed him close, almost lifting him off his feet in order to bring their lips into closer contact. When they fell back onto the bed, their teeth clicked together, and Lisandro turned his head to the side, laughing.
Sehzad untangled himself from Lisandro and pushed up onto his arms, one leg across LIsandro’s hips. Lisandro’s hair splayed out on the pillow, and if he had looked disheveled when he arrived, not he looked completely disreputable. In the cage of Sehzad’s arms, Lisandro began to unlace his own shirt, pulling the laces out of their eyelets until his chest was bare. Propping himself on his side, Sehzad rested his hand on the span of Lisandro’s chest. His skin was a shade darker than Lisandro’s, and in the candlelight they blended into flickering amber.
Sehzad slid his hand down Lisandro’s smooth belly and into the band of his breeches. He followed his hand with his mouth, pressing a trail of wet kisses down past Lisandro’s navel. Lisandro threw his head back, accepting Sehzad’s adoration as his due.
When Sehzad pushed Lisandro’s breeches aside and cupped his manhood, Lisandro let out a shuddering sigh and wound his hand in Sehzad’s hair, displacing the gold circlet he had forgotten to remove earlier. Sehzad succumbed to the gentle urging of Lisandro’s hand and, lifting Lisandro’s prick in one hand, he slid his mouth down over the tip.
“Oh, Gods,” Lisandro murmured. Out of the corner of his eye, Sehzad could see Lisandro had turned his head to the side and pressed his eyes closed, spreading himself out beneath Sehzad;’s hands and mouth with unselfconscious abandon. Sehzad felt his own cock twinge with interest at the thought.
Lisandro’s cock brushed the back of Sehzad’s palate, and Sehzad relaxed his throat muscles, taking Lisandro another finger-width deeper, and being rewarded by a low moan. Sehzad paused for a moment, adjusting to the pressure of Lisandro’s cock on his tongue, the heavy, musky taste of him.
Then he thought, if Lisandro likes to hear me speak so much, he is going to love this, and hummed.
The reaction was instant: Lisandro arched up off the bed. His hand in Sehzad’s hair became a claw, and he gasped, “By the Gods, Sehzad.”
Sehzad sucked his mouth off Lisandro’s cock and said, “Did you like that, Lisandro?”
Lisandro closed his eyes, an expression of almost-pain on his face. “Do it again, please. Oh Gods, do it again.” He seemed to realise he was pulling Sehzad’s hair and unlocked his fingers, gentling his thumb along the skin behind Sehzad’s ear. Sehzad had to keep from purring as he opened his lips and sank once again onto Lisandro’s prick. This time he tightened his stomach muscles, drew in a deep breath through his nose, and led the noise come up from his chest.
His hips restrained by Sehzad’s hand, Lisandro thrashed from side to side, moaning. When Sehzad withdrew, he could taste the first strings of Lisandro’s pleasure on the back of his tongue, but Lisandro was still desperately hard, his cock swollen, pink and gleaming.
Lisandro opened his glazed eyes and reached for Sehzad, scrabbling at his robe. While Sehzad hurriedly disrobed, nearly gasping with relief when his straining prick was free of its confines, Lisandro wiggled free of his breeches and rolled over, presenting his arse to Sehzad.
“Are you sure?” sad Sehzad, feeling his cock respond to the sight of that puckered ring.
He trailed off as Sehzad climbed atop him, pushing Lisandro’s knees apart with his own. “There’s some oil on the floor,” he said, and Lisandro reached down, felt around and then passed the phial back to Sehzad and wrapped his arms around the pillow. Sehzad slicked his fingers and pressed two past the ring of Lisandro’s anus to spread the oil. Then he hitched Lisandro’s hips up and pressed his aching cock against the ring of muscle.
He felt Lisandro adjust himself and relax his stomach muscles to accommodate the intrusion, and stroked his hand down Lisandro’s sweat-sheened back. When their hips met, Sehzad took two deep breaths to still his shuddering muscles, then leaned over so he could take Lisandro’s prick in one hand, and began to thrust in time with the tug of his hand. Lisandro picked up the primal rhythm of Sehzad’s thrusts and pushed his hips to meet Sehzad’s.
Lisandro was so close already; in what seemed like only moments, he was gasping and pressing his face into the pillow as his sticky seed covered Sehzad’s fingers. Sehzad felt an answering tug in his gut. He dropped onto his hands, curled over Lisandro’s back and pressed so close he could feel the aftershocks racing through Lisandro’s muscles. A few more thrusts and he was finished.
When Sehzad could move again, he pulled himself away from Lisandro and reached for a linen from the nightstand. Lisandro was as floppy as a rag doll when Sehzad turned him over and mopped away the sweat and seed from his belly and the bedclothes.
Lisandro gave him a beatific smile and said, “Thank you, Sehzad.”
Sehzad threw the linen aside and pressed his nose to the juncture of Lisandro’s neck and shoulder, his cheek brushing Lisandro’s soft hair. He ran his hand down Lisandro’s stomach and said, “Thank you, too. Lisandro.”
* * *
As Sehzad recited the opening stanzas of Volume V of his history, Lisandro propped his head on his hand and let the humming, melodic tones wash over him, remembering another very good use to which that voice had been recently put.
“De Vallena, you look like the cat who got the cream,” said Lord Valentin.
Lisandro tilted his head and smiled at his friend. “Mind your own business, Lord Valentin,” he said.
Valentin pulled a rueful face. “I am justly rebuked,” he said. “I shall leave you to your thoughts.”
Lisandro waved him off, happy with his thoughts, and, as Sehzad’s gaze met his, even happier with the reality. No doubt he would eventually manage to do something that rated a mention in Sehzad’s history, although perhaps not in the version intended for publication.
* * *
First thing’s first: no, I definitely didn’t write ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’. I am time poor and bad at poetry and nobody would have enjoyed my attempts to write my own epic satire. 90% of ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’ is from John Dryden’s Absalolm and Achitophel, a satire on the exclusion crisis during the reign of Charles II of England. Dryden really. did. not. like. the Earl of Shaftesbury, ‘sall I’m sayin’. If you enjoyed the excerpts I pulled out and repurposed for this story, you should check the whole thing out. Nobody does heroic couplet burnnnnnn like Dryden.
In the same vein, the last poem is an excerpt/adaptation of Rochester’s Satyr on Charles II, for which he apparently had to flee court…!
Second thing, if you’ll forgive the moment of shameless plugging, this story takes place in the same ‘verse as a longer work of mine A Frequent Traveller’s Guide to Jovan, in which Lord Valentin is a central character. I would describe the story as a sprawling political fantasy/comedy of manners/treatise on the ethics and economics of slavery/gay romance that is somewhat like Game of Thrones, but with fewer sadistic character deaths. I am so close to finishing the story that I can taste it, so if that kind of thing is your bag (baby), now is an excellent time to check it out!