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They didn’t see him. Oh, they were looking at him gamely enough, but they really didn’t see him. They didn’t see Artemous, the young wizard that had attained power and respect despite having come from the streets, they didn’t see the man that had fought in a war for them, they didn’t see the man that had almost died for them.
No, they saw the murderer only, the assassin, the betrayer. Everything he had done, everything that had been done to him, for them, all of it for them, it meant nothing.
He stared down at his hands, imagining he could still see the blood on them. Blood that he had spilled, not with magic, not through cunning or cleverness but with a stupid, pointless dagger, thrust through the back of the princess, thrust hard into her heart.
He wanted to bathe so terribly that it almost hurt. They had allowed him to wash of course but he had not been granted the luxury of an actual bath. He unconsciously rubbed his hands on the rough woollen tunic they had given him after throwing the blood soaked one away. He had worn worse clothing of course, he was born a street rat after all, but it had been long time since he had felt anything other than silk against his skin.
The manacles around his wrists sparkled gold in the sun, the small glyphs on them standing out in sharp contrast against his pale skin. They contained his power, locked it away in a small box that he would never he be able to reach. It was a terrible feeling, knowing the power was there but being unable to reach it. His power had given him strength, made him feel safe and secure. He was lost without it. He was afraid.
“Wake up boy!” A dreaded voice barked near him. He looked up reluctantly into the hateful face of Seren, the cities wizard keeper. The other man’s keen features stared hungrily into his face, searching for the pain, the fear, the remorse. “You haven’t eaten.” He said, looking pointedly at the bowl at Artemous feet. “Come now boy, we can’t have you starve yourself to death. Not when the fire awaits.”
Artemous shuddered very slightly and looked away. He hated fire, nothing petrified him more. He heard a tired sigh and the rattle of keys. He looked up sharply. He did not want Seren in the cage with him. He did not want it! He backed away very slightly but there was nowhere to go in the small cage. Nowhere for him to hide. The door opened and Seren crawled in after him. He caught hold of the wizard’s long braid and gave it a violent tug. Artemous didn’t respond. He did not remember how to fight without magic, if he had ever known at all. His face was pushed into the bowl. It rose up into his mouth, his nose, and his eyes. He began to struggle then. He could not imagine a more bizarre death but if he wasn’t released soon he knew he would suffocate.
“Eat!” The wizard keeper screamed into his face after he hauled him upright. “Eat else I’ll break your teeth and force the food through your hole!”
He took the bowl in shaking hands and began to sip at the rancid stuff. Seren watched him eagerly, clearly enjoying his humiliation. He could feel the gruel dripping off his face onto his clothing. He tried to keep his expression carefully neutral and not betray his pain but he wasn’t sure he succeeded.
The wizard keeper patted his head when he was finished and picked up the bowl. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully cleaned off Artermous’s face. He was grinning all the while. “You’ll break soon.” He said, looking gleefully into the wizards eyes. “It won’t be long now my love.”
And then he left. And Artemous looked at his hands. ********************************************************** Artemous was woken by voices. That was rather unusual; normally the only voice he heard was Seren’s. He wondered if they had come to kill him. He realised he did not mind the idea of death. A part güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri of him even welcomed it. But he didn’t want to burn. Lord and lady above he did not want to burn.
Seren came in first, his face twisted into a mask of hate and fury and Artemous instinctively flinched away from him. The keeper barely even noticed. He swept aside and Artemous was forced to look into the face of the only man he dreaded more than Seren.
Ruben, twin to the woman he had killed, heir to the throne, and the man he had gone to bed with almost every night since he had reached maturity. “Get out!” He said, his eyes fixed on Artemous. The keeper hesitated. “Get out!” He screamed.
And the keeper fled, leaving Artemous alone with the man that had been his entire world for as long as he could remember. He realised that he still loved him, even after the terrible betrayal, after the lies and the cruelty that followed. But something more compelling than love stopped him from finally letting lose the almost insane need inside of him. It stopped him from howling and kicking and punching the bards in an attempt to reach his betrayer. Because as much as he loved Ruben he feared him much more. That fear had been installed in him since he was first apprenticed in the wizards’ keep; it had kept him susceptible, pliable and easily controlled.
It had made him kill. She had not been an innocent woman, she had plotted against the crown and had tried to take the throne for herself, but she had not deserved a knife in the back.
“Come here.” It was an order, not to be disobeyed. Artemous didn’t move. Ruben kind of tilted his head to one side and studied him thoughtfully. He smiled suddenly, a terrible, ghastly smile as he gave a casual flick of his hand and the lock on the cage broke in two. The look he gave Artemous indicated he could just as easily do the same to him. “Come here.” He repeated very dangerously.
Artemous crawled towards him. Ruben caught his arm before he made it all the way out by himself and dragged him the rest of the way. He forced him upright, his arm holding on tightly enough to cause bruises. “You’re leaving.” He said shortly. His only explanation as he started too strong arm him out the door.
“Ruben,” He said, trying to make his voice work. He couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken, how many weeks had he spent trapped in the cage? “Ruben, where are you taking me?”
“Away.” He said shortly, his grip tightening, warning him to shut up.
He tried to stay silent but one terrifying thought made him speak. “Is it the fire?”
His smile was terrible as he stopped for a moment and softly caressed the side of Artemous face. “Not for you my darling.” ************************************************ Artemous started dazedly at the eastern men. He had never seen them close up before and he could not hide his sudden weariness. They were large creatures, decked out in crude pelts and furs. They braided their beards and hair, adding tiny bones and other odd trinkets. They smelled crude to him, like perhaps they did not bathe more than once a year.
They all looked up as Artemous and Ruben approached them. He could feel their eyes on him and wondered numbly what Ruben intended to do to him now. He tried to pull back but the prince just held on more tightly. “Ruben,” He tried quietly.
He didn’t know the eastern language, a few words perhaps but not nearly enough to pick up what was being said between the prince and the tall one that seemed to speak for all his men. Suddenly those great brown eyes turned on him. He did not smile as he reached out and caught Artermous’s chin. His hands were rough, calloused and engraved with dirt. The wizard tried to break free but Ruben caught his hair and forced him to stay still. He felt güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri like a trapped rabbit caught between two foxes. The manacles on his wrists bleated angrily. His power wanted out. He wanted some control.
They spoke some more and then the easterner nodded his head very slightly and released him. “Ruben,” Artemous said more loudly. He actually managed to wrench himself free and put a few paces between them. “What are you doing?”
“I’m saving you from the fire darling.” He said, quirking his eyebrows and smiling very slightly. “Think of it as payment for all those decedent nights you spent in my bed.”
Artemous blinked at him stupidly. He had said cruel things before but never anything so terribly hurtful. “Please Ruben,” He said, his voice cracking very slightly. “What have you done?”
“Consider yourself an envoy of the Islington court, my darling.” He said, straight faced and solemn.
“You’ve sold me, to them?” Artemous cried, his eyes wide and fearful.
“Of course not.” Ruben said, affronted. He closed the distance between them and forced a passionate kiss on Artemous, all but bending him in two. “You’re more of a gift. A peace offering.” The kiss enveloped him, stealing his breath. He heard Ruben’s voice perfectly in his mind. “Consider it your penance my darling, for having murdered an innocent woman.”
And with that he pushed him roughly away, grinning as he hit the ground. Artemous stared blankly up at him. He didn’t even struggle as strange hands picked him back up and tied him to the saddle of a horse.
One thought kept reverting around in his mind. An innocent woman. ***************************** He could feel their eyes on him, watching him with a wary sort of fascination as though they expected him to sprout wings at any moment and fly off. He would have liked to have said that it gave him some leverage over them but it quickly became apparent that fascination and fear were two very different things. They knew his power was contained and they knew that without it he would cause them very little worry.
It was difficult being among them, not only because of his own desperate heartache and self revulsion, but also because they were so obviously different to his own people. There was no finery among them, no acid tongues or dry wit. They seemed painfully simple to him, devoid of anything other than a basic intellect.
He was also afraid of them, as well he might be. He didn’t know what they wanted, or why Ruben had given him to them.
They left him alone for the most part, for which he was thankful. He was given food and a blanket at night on which he might sleep. They even untied him when they made camp, though they were sure to tether him to something at night.
It was on the forth night, as he sat quietly, huddled in his blankets and close to the fire, that he was forced to converse with them for the first time. He began idly tugging at the bracelets around his wrists, subconsciously trying to pull them off even though he knew they were far too snug to slip off, when he felt a powerful hand grip his shoulder. He almost jumped a foot in the air in surprise before trying to twist free. He was spun round and hoisted to his feet, and suddenly he found himself staring into the tall ones furious dark eyes. His shoulder was released but when he tried to step away his wrist was caught in a manacle like hold. The easterner pulled Artemous wrist up and forced his hand to stay suspended between them. There was murder in his eyes, cold and furious. “Do not.” He said, each word clear and concise.
Artemous shook his head wordlessly and tried to pull free. The grip on his wrist tightened, almost grinding his bones together. He thought his knees were going to buckle but he managed not to scream.
“Do güvenilir bahis şirketleri not,” The other man repeated coldly. “If you try to take off the bracelets I’ll have your eyes and your tongue cut out. Do you understand me?”
His other hand wound through Artermous’s hair, wrenching his head back until the smaller man was forced to meet his gaze. “You were.” He said coldly, cutting him off. He held him there a moment longer, perhaps to convey his point, before pushing him back down onto his blankets.
Artemous didn’t move for a long time. Years spent on the streets and then with Ruben had taught him when to be still. When he did eventually sit back up he saw a dozen pair of eyes turn in his direction. He ignored them and slowly massaged his bruised wrist, careful not to linger too close to the bracelet.
I need to get away, he realised, thinking offensively for the first time in weeks. He could have laughed at himself for being such a damned fool. Of course he needed to get away, but how in the name of the lord and lady was he supposed to do it? He couldn’t remove the bracelets, no matter what the eastern brute thought. Even if he lost weight they would shrink with him. That was part of their magic, part of what made them so effective. He could try and use his wit but he was perfectly aware that when it came to anything other than his studies he had little of it to spare. He couldn’t fight them, he couldn’t out run them. They were twelve men to his one.
When the bowl slapped down in front of him he very nearly disgraced himself by yelling out. One of them crouched down next to him. He smiled very slightly and nudged the blow into Artermous’s lap. He was one of the younger men, probably the same age as Artemous, if not a little older. He wasn’t as tall as their stony faced leader but he probably would have stood at least half a head taller than the mage. His dark chocolate brown hair was braided in twin plates, each one resting far past his shoulders. “Are you ever going to eat?” He asked, his common crude and thick with his accent. He nudged the bowl a little closer, like he thought Artemous might be too stupid to understand the words alone. “It’s not poison, I swear.”
The mage looked dispassionately down at the gruel. He tried to remember the last time he had eaten. He recalled swallowing down some of the muck the night before. Was that not enough?
“You need to eat little brother.” The other man said gently. “You’re skin and bone. How will you perform great magic if you can’t hold yourself up?”
He wanted the other man to leave him alone, to keep ignoring him like they had been. He shuffled away from him a little and pulled the blankets closer around his body. He heard the other mans quiet sigh and wondered why he suddenly cared so much.
“What are you going to do to me?” He asked suddenly, looking back at the young man.
“Don’t you know?” He sounded surprised. “You’re being given to our queen, as a gift. You’re to perform magic for her.”
Artemous arched one eyebrow. “And how exactly am I supposed to do that whilst I’m wearing these bracelets?”
“Our own necromancer will be in charge of you.” The young man smiled an easy smile. “We have been told that their magic is far more powerful than yours.”
Artemous felt his eyes bulging in his head as he flinched away from the easterner youth. “A necromancer, you’re putting me under the control of a necromancer?” his voice was barely more than a squeak. He stood up suddenly, an insane need to run away urging him on. The youth rose with him, his expression cautious.
“Be calm little brother. The necromancer will not harm you but I promise you that my leader will if you do not sit back down.”
But it was too late. The tall one rushed over to them and grabbed his throat, latching onto him as he pulled out his dagger. He started yelling, not at Artemous but at the youth beside him. The younger man answered the tall one calmly. Eventually Artemous was released and pushed back down. He stayed on the floor this time, shaking with a fear that had nothing to do with the men surrounding him.
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