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Lukas opened his eyes begrudgingly and stared languidly up at the night sky. Tate’s warm body lay beside him, close and comforting in the chill spring air. He supposed he should be thankful that Tate still deigned to sleep beside him, especially when every gesture and word that came out of his mouth seemed to scream hostility. Lukas tried to push away the sudden bitterness he felt and concentrated on the stars glittering high above them. It isn’t his fault, he told himself for what felt like the hundredth time, it’s amazing that he has come as far as he has. But the resentment he felt still clawed at his belly, it still made him wonder what he had gotten himself into.

He contained a weary sigh and tried to clear his mind, but as always everything seemed to lead back to Tate. Life had been so much simpler before he came. There was no animosity between Lukas and his brother, the troupe was certainly safer and Lukas could sleep at night without having to worry that the person he went to bed with might not be there when he woke up. But I love him, he thought, almost resentfully, and the implications left him sick and tired because he knew with a painful clarity that the love he felt would never be returned. He knew it the moment Tate had met his eyes after he had proclaimed his feelings, as he lay there raw and vulnerable, hoping for anything other than the sardonic smile and arched eyebrow that had been directed at him. “You don’t love me, Lukas.” He had said, cold and as hard as ice. “You can’t love me. You don’t even know me.”

And he had realised, after he had gotten over the initial shock and heartache, that he really didn’t know his Shantran, not one damned little bit. With some work he had managed to tease Tate’s name from him but even that had been an ordeal of constant reassurances and pledges of trust. He had no idea if his friend was learned, what sort of household he had been born into, whether he was a fighter, a servant or the unwanted beget of some nobleman, as Lukas’s father had always suspected. All he really knew about Tate was that his friend was frightened and confused and terribly, terribly angry.

The tinker propped his head on his hand as he studied the younger mans slumbering form. His Shantran really was breathtakingly lovely, even more so when he was sleeping and the constant turmoil that often seemed to plague his waking hours was locked away in slumber. His face was smooth and calm and achingly beautiful. Lukas looked down at his full mouth and felt an almost overwhelming need to kiss him. “God’s help me.” He said softly, feeling that painful and familiar ache in his chest.

Whenever they were alone Robert called Tate a whore. He said the only reason the half-blood even suffered Lukas’s ministrations was because he needed protection and food. He said that Tate was a trickster and a vagabond. He said Tate hated Lukas as he hated all of them. He called Lukas was a fool for loving him.

And lady and lord above help him but Lukas was starting to believe his brother. He didn’t act on his feelings because he didn’t want to be considered the spurned lover simply because Tate had reacted so coldly towards him but as the days wore on, and Tate became more withdrawn and cruel, Lukas couldn’t help but wonder if his Shantran was desperately trying to repair some of the damage he had caused by encouraging Lukas’s advances. It wasn’t helping that their tribe still hadn’t caught up with them despite the fact that they were moving at a snail’s pace. All of them were worried; Lukas couldn’t understand what was taking them so long. He began to worry that the youths in the city had brought trouble down on the entire camp, but that made no sense. Without the three of them there to be indentified there was no way the city guards could blame their troupe for anything. They may have been horribly unfair but they did have to follow some laws. Tate looked up at him suddenly, his golden eyes wide and thoughtful as he lay beside him. They gazed at one another for a long time until Lukas could bare it no more. He closed his eyes and rested his head on Tate’s breast. The gentle rise and fall of his Shantran’s chest was a painful comfort. Lukas half expected to be pushed away when he felt a gentle hand rest on his forehead and gently caress his hair back from his forehead. It was a small thing, almost too small to note but for him it was enough, because fool that he was, he loved him. ****************************************************************************** Tanis surveyed the new group of tinkers with a critical eye. The trio of idiot boys had described Tate’s description perfectly and the city guards had confirmed it. The southerners stood beside him, scaring the life out of the city folk. Behind them the tinkers were crying and calling out, demanding to know what they had done to be treated so terribly.

Tate was not with them. The half-blood had clearly run off after the incident with the city boys. It didn’t exactly surprise Tanis, poker oyna after all it was in keeping with his nature to run away at the first hint of trouble, it was an annoyance though. He had hoped to find the half-breed that afternoon so he might present him to his brother within the week. The delay wasn’t going to help his brothers temper, which meant Tanis’s position was precarious at best. He knew he was barely a stone’s throw away from being discreetly disposed of. He didn’t want to die, not because some foolish bastard had driven his brother half insane with lust.

He made his way to the cadges and stared from one face to another. They were not a large troupe; there was only one male among them over the age of seventeen. Tanis stopped their leader, he must have seen over fifty summers but he was still an impressive size with a bulk that did not consist solely of fat. His ice blue eyes stared accusingly back at Tanis, silently demanding to know why his people had been put into cadges. “I’m looking for a man.” Tanis said, speaking common for the other mans benefit even though he wasn’t entirely fluent. “He would speak with an accent similar to mine. He is small and lightly built with brown hair and yellow eyed. His name is Tate. Has he travelled with you?”

The old man lifted his chin and set his jaw stubbornly. Tanis raised his eyebrows and was surprised when the tinker copied his expression. “Come now,” he said reasonably. “He isn’t here now is he? There isn’t any point in trying to help him anymore. Just look at the trouble he’s already got you into. Tell me where he went and I’ll do everything I can to make sure you and your tribe remain safe.”

The old man just continued to stare at him. Tanis suddenly felt a little desperate. When Christian caught up with them and met the proud old man he would do anything to gain the information he wanted. Tanis didn’t want to think what those monstrosities might entail. He could see the little girl sobbing against her mother’s chest and the handsome youth stood wide eyed behind his father. Christian would hurt them for resisting him, he would kill them, and Tanis was chillingly confident that his brother would enjoy it.

“Please,” He said softly. His eyes flickered back to the young man seated stiffly beside his father. “Think about your family.”

Those ice blue eyes bored into him. “Believe me my lord, I am.” Robert made a grab for Tate but the smaller man jumped nimbly out of his grasp. He retreated back, putting as much distance as possible between them. Lukas tried not to let his own fury show, he had known the confrontation was going to happen eventually but he had hoped the others would have caught up with them so he could rely on his father for some support. He didn’t relish the notion of fighting Robert.

“Something’s happened and it’s all your damned fault!” Robert bellowed at Tate. “If they’ve been hurt I’ll personally see to it that your skinned alive!”

“Stop it Robert!” Lukas yelled, inserting himself firmly between the two men. “Think about what you’re saying to him. By the god’s man, what is wrong with you? Father taught us better than this.”

“And where is father, Lukas? He should have been here days ago and yet we’ve seen no sign of him! Something’s happened to him, to all of them and it’s his fault! I tell you it was a mistake taking him in the first place.”

“But we did and he’s here and he’s a part of my life.” Lukas reached out for his brother but Robert pushed him angrily away. “Why are you acting this way? Why do you hate him so much?”

“Why?” Robert suddenly hissed, “Why? Why in the hell do you think? Lady and lord above Lukas are you really so damned selfish? What, you think you’re the only one to ever find love? I was in love once Lukas, or don’t you remember Alia?” He pointed hatefully at Tate over Lukas’s shoulder; he wasn’t talking to his brother anymore. “She was beautiful, young and so stupidly innocent! She said she loved me. She said she would marry me. Do you know what happened, you little sneak, she went out to bathe whilst the rest of us made camp. Some of your kind stumbled across her. Seems I wasn’t the only one to find her beautiful.” Tears washed down his little brothers cheeks but the hate and malice remained as he struggled to push Lukas aside and reach Tate’s frozen form. “They destroyed her, utterly and totally! The healer said she wouldn’t ever have a baby! I think that’s what finally broke her; I think that what made her drive the dagger into her own chest!” he let out a bellow of hate and rage and pain. “That’s all your kind is good for! You’re murderers one and all. Or didn’t you think I knew what you are, where you’re from? Don’t think for an instant that I don’t know who you are, Tate!”

His Shantran stumbled back as though he had been struck. His great golden eyes turned accusingly on Lukas and the emotions within them took his breath away. “No, Please, I didn’t. Shantran please, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell anyone. canlı poker oyna I kept my word to you, I swear it.”

“That’s all that matters to you, isn’t Lukas. You need to keep you’re whore happy!” Robert’s voice took on a tone of pleading as he caught Lukas’s arms. “I want him gone Lukas. It hurts too much to look at him. Please just send him away. He doesn’t love you.”

Tate kept retreating back, he turned around suddenly and he started running and even though Lukas went after him he knew that he would never catch him. Tate was lightening on legs. He yelled uselessly after him but Tate soon vanished from his sight.

“He doesn’t love you Lukas.” Robert screamed desperately as Lukas kept running helplessly after Tate. “Let him go! We need to find our family.”

But Lukas couldn’t let him go, not yet. ******************************************************* “I can follow him, my lord.” The tracker said confidentially as he bowed before Tanis. He stood back up and grinned, looking very much like a wolf. “From what I’ve gathered they left by the eastern gates. They would be travelling slowly, waiting for their tribe. They might have even turned back around. I could very well stumble into them.” “You know the half-blood isn’t to be harmed.” Tanis said sternly. “Nor any of his companions unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Of course my lord, but just so we’re clear it’s only the bastard that needs to be brought back alive?”

Tanis felt a wave of misgiving as he looked back at the tracker. “That’s correct.”

“He’s un-bloodied isn’t he?”

“He is, but so far he’s managed to avoid us all. Do not underestimate him tracker.”

“I never do my lord.” He grinned his wolf grin again and vaulted up onto the saddle of his horse. “He can’t be more than a few days ahead of us. Once I have him I’ll double back and meet you on the road to Calardor. Does that please you my lord?”

“Just see to it that you bring him back. Do that and you can name your prize.”

“Music to my ears my lord.” He turned the horse around and kicked her off into a gallop. “Look for me my lord. I’ll not fail you.”

“God’s help me,” Tanis whispered very quietly. As much as he wanted to find the half-blood and end the insanity he couldn’t help but wonder over the baron’s son’s fate. He was about to invite the young man into the hell of Christian’s clutches. A part of him, a very small part, hoped they never found Tate. But it’s his life or mine, he thought despairingly, and he wouldn’t have been any sort of man if he put the life of a stranger before his own.

But what sort of man hands the lives of innocents into the clutches of a vicious and quite possible mad man?

******************************************************************************

Someone was following him and he was pretty damned sure that it wasn’t Lukas. Tate stopped very still and tried to let the outside noise wash over him. Whoever his tracker was he was very close and he was doing a damned good job of concealing his footsteps.

He was half tempted to turn back on himself but he couldn’t risk leading his stalker back to Lukas. Not after everything else he had already done to him.

He closed his eyes briefly before he started forward again. He knew that whatever was about to happen would make things much worse but he was at a loss for what he could do to try and avoid it. A part of him wanted to fall into a fit of despair and just crumple. He bowed his head briefly and kept going. Giving up was not an option, not ever. He would keep fighting just as his father had always taught him.

Let them come. *************************************************************************** Lukas reached out and caught his little brother’s arm. Robert glared accusingly back at him but he refused to be cowed by the other man, nothing would be gained from rushing three scores of soldiers. He bowed his head slightly and tried to sink further into the out growing shrubs. He could just make out the still figure of his father, his arms enveloping Lukas’s youngest brothers. He couldn’t see his mother or sisters.

“This is the half-blood’s fault.” Robert snapped at him, quietly thankfully enough.

Lukas was about to argue with him when he caught sight of the crest on the soldiers’ chests. It was the symbols warn by the northern kings second born. He knew it well having visited the high city many times in his life.

As he sat still and examined the young man Tate’s words suddenly came back to him with a painful clarity. He had said a powerful man was looking for him, surely he didn’t mean the young prince? The boy had barely passed adolescence. Lukas looked at him a moment longer and then everything seemed to click into place. He felt stupid for not thinking of it sooner. He remembered the night his Shantran had had a nightmare. Tate had screamed out a name with such dread and loathing that Lukas had mentioned it to him afterwards. His friend had reacted internet casino venomously, threatening to leave him. Lukas had not pushed the subject of the mysterious pursuer after Tate had reluctantly offered Lukas his name, but the tinker had not forgotten. Tate had called his hunter crazed; he said he was consumed with need because he had been denied something for the first time in his life. The name he had screamed out had been Christian. So it wasn’t Tanis that hounded the half-blood but his elder brother, the crowned prince.

“Lady and Lord above.” He groaned.

“What is it?” Robert asked worriedly. “You’ve gone as pale as a sheet. What’s wrong?”

“Oh god’s Robert! We have to free them! There, see the young one in armour? It’s prince Tanis.”

Robert looked to where he was pointing, his mouth slightly agape. “What in the five hells is he doing here? What concern is a tinker’s caravan to a prince?”

“It isn’t us he’s looking for.” Lukas said very quietly.

Robert didn’t need to say anything to him, his look said it all.

Tate stopped walking and tried to listen. It was difficult with his blood pounding in his ears but he reckoned he could hear the faint fall of footsteps. His eyes searched frantically for any signs of pursuit but the woods were too dense to see very far in any direction. “You sense me boy?” a voice asked mockingly from Tate’s right. The half-blood spun around, his heart hammering painfully in his chest as he tried to look everywhere at once. He waited tensely until the voice rang out again, this time from behind him. “You’re wise to fear me Tate. You angered a very powerful man not so long ago. You know who I mean.”

Fear caught in his chest, making it difficult to breathe. “How do you know my name?” he demanded raggedly. “Who are you?”

Laughter, cruel and full of maliciousness surrounded him. “You have no blade half-blood, not even a dagger. Did the baron not teach you better? Or perhaps living among the filthy scavengers had further weakened your already lacking skills”

“Who are you?” Tate repeated, hating the fear he could hear in his own voice. “Damn you, what do you want? Show yourself!”

And he did, stepping out from the shadows with a wicked looking dagger in one hand and a broadsword strapped to his back. His pale golden hair and light milky skin named him a northern man even though his accent had already given him away. Their eyes locked briefly before Tate turned and ran. He could hear the footfalls behind him now; his stalker wasn’t making any attempt to disguise his pursuit anymore. Tate was a very fast runner; he might have been able to outrun the other man if an expectedly thrown dagger hadn’t pierced his calf. His leg crumpled beneath him as he let out a muffled grunt of pain.

He turned around quickly and yanked the dagger out of his leg. He managed to stand up but he couldn’t apply any pressure of his left calf. His attacker was smiling at him, laughing no doubt at his apparent weakness. Tate could feel the hot wet stickiness of his own blood running down his leg. He felt a wave of foreboding but he pushed it away and raised the blade defensively.

“Are you planning to use that on me boy?” his attacker asked in mock amazement. “Perhaps you wish to claim your first blood?” he pulled the daggers twin from his side and spun it in one hand. “Drop it now; else I’ll stick your other leg as well.”

Tate spit at him. He flinched as the dagger flew past his head, allowing his attacker the opportunity the wrestle the blade from his hands. Tate struggled but the other man was much stronger than him. He felt a hand clamp onto his jaw and had to stand almost on his tiptoes as his face was turned up for inspection. “Pretty enough I suppose.” The other man grunted thoughtfully. “But not of my liking. Still the prince should be well pleased.” So saying he thrust Tate away from him. The half-blood fell heavily onto his back, the collision momentarily knocking the air from his lungs. He struggled to breathe as his attacker ripped a strip of cloth from his cloak and wrapped it tightly around Tate’s injured leg. “He won’t be pleased by the scar though.” He said softly, apparently to himself. His hand clamped onto Tate’s shoulder as he hoisted the smaller man into a sitting position. “I passed your little gypsy friends on my way here. They were talking about you, talking about how you had run off. It’s lucky for them that you did. Otherwise I might have had to kill them.” When he grinned Tate couldn’t help but liken him to a wolf. He had the same savage, unruly glean in his eyes. Close up his hair and beard were scraggy and miss kept. He was tall but wiry and lithe. “You’re a fast little shit aren’t you boy. You nearly lost me a few times. How long did you know I was following you?”

Tate spit at him. He expected a blow to the face but the other man gripped his injured calf and applied tight pressure. Tate threw himself backwards and tried to scream but he couldn’t find enough breath to make any noise. The other man just held on more tightly. Tate tried to pry his fingers away but the tracker just smiled at him. “Stop it!” Tate gasped, expelling his breathe in a ragged gasp. “Stop!”

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