I’m about 120k words into The Invisible Hands — Part 3: Pawn Storm. I’m writing the final chapters in which some situations come to a tragic head, but in which we also may learn who the Trachian prince is, or at least come very near to discovering his identity.
Meanwhile, this is a first excerpt to tide you over.
I chose a segment of the final scene of chapter 2, The Return, featuring Lexyntas and Thenoclon.
I hope you’ll enjoy it.
During the last months Thenoclon and his slave, Lexyntas, have grown to respect and like each other, and maybe more than that. Lexyntas, inexperienced, and somewhat naive and prudish, needed some time to get used to the idea that he could more than just like another guy.
Finally he has managed to convince himself that loving Thenoclon would not be so bad after all. But things are not going as smoothly as they could.
Lexyntas sat, waiting with the other slaves, before the building next to the training grounds. Chryntyum was there as well, waiting for Navastas, but he seemed not interested in his usual teasing games. In fact, he seemed nervous.
The young Naodyman nobles were getting their marching orders today. They would be given their official rank, if any, and told when and where to report for active duty.
Thenoclon was one of the first to come outside. Lexyntas, like most slaves, stood up and wiped the sand off his too short tunic. They had to keep up appearances in public, and Lexyntas dutifully bowed his head as Thenoclon passed and gave him a short, “Come.”
Once they were a few miles outside the city walls of Naodyma and they were reasonably sure of not being observed, they started walking next to each other.
“That went well,” Thenoclon said. “I’ve got a top rank for a junior. I’m an officer. A captain.”
“Congratulations. You’ve earned it.”
Thenoclon was in high spirits.
“I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ll have my own company of fifty men, and, better still, I’ll have my own tent.”
“Ah,” was all Lexyntas said.
“You don’t seem pleased,” Thenoclon said, surprised. “It means I can take you with me, since officers are allowed to have a servant to look after their things. You’ll be safe. Far safer than at home without me.”
“Yes, good,” Lexyntas replied as lackluster as the first time.
This time Thenoclon halted in his tracks.
“Right. What’s the matter with you? You should be overjoyed, not so much for my sake as for your own.”
“Then why aren’t you? Whatever is bothering you: out with it.”
Lexyntas hesitated. Eventually he decided he just wanted to know.
“The sleeping arrangements—”
“The sleeping arrangements? Just like at home, I suppose. You’ll have your own straw sack to sleep upon, but the tent is rather small, so I think we’ll have to put them next to each other.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Lexyntas blurted out, irritated. “Will it really be just like at home? Us two? Naked? Lying within inches of each other?”
“I suppose so. What of it?”
“And nothing happening?” Lexyntas shouted, indignant now. “Us lying there, and you turning on your side? And me—”
He abruptly stopped speaking.
“And you?” Thenoclon asked.
“And me not turning on my side.” It came out in a soft, sulking tone.
“Aha,” the young Naodyman said, raising his eyebrows. “Is that why you took off your loincloth these last weeks? In hopes of something happening?”
“You make it sound vulgar,” Lexyntas protested meekly. “I… I thought it was what you wanted.”
“Well, you were wrong. It isn’t.”
Lexyntas’s mouth fell open. He gasped for air a few times before he could speak.
“It is not what you want?” he erupted. “How can it not be what you want? You said you liked me. You even said you liked what you saw at… at that ghastly episode with… with those two.”
“All the same, it is not what I want.”
Lexyntas threw both his arms in the air in a gesture of exasperation and let them fall beside his body again.
“I don’t just like you, Lexyntas,” Thenoclon explained as to a slow student. “I love you. I thought I made that clear. At first I thought you were just a nice-looking asset. Then I grudgingly began to appreciate you. I started to respect you. Later still I grew to like you. I thought I wanted you as a friend, until it finally dawned on me that I was in love with you. Head over heels in love. You see now?”
“No, I don’t.” Lexyntas was shouting now. “What’s your problem? I’m lying there, right there, next to you, each and every night, with barely five inches between us. Naked. Buck naked. What’s keeping you?”
“I’m not the problem. I’m not sure it’s what you really want.”
Lexyntas thought he was going to explode.
“Why do you think I… why would… how can… Oh, by all the Gods and Goddesses, you’re making this difficult. How can you think it is not what I want?”
“Ah, well, you’re a very handsome guy, and you know it. Don’t even try to deny it. You’re also a very nice guy, Lexyntas. Maybe you think, ‘Why not give poor Thenoclon what he so obviously wants? It’s little enough in exchange for what he does for me.’ You could be just grateful. Or maybe you changed your mind and you now think the time has come to experiment.”
“Yes. Nothing wrong with it in principle. It’s just not what I want.”
“Then what is it you do want, Thenoclon?” Lexyntas cried out, almost desperate.
“I love you, Lexyntas, and I won’t have that cheapened by gratuitous sex. Or by gratitude-sex. I want to be loved in return or it simply isn’t worth the grief.”
“The grief? How… What? The grief?”
“Yes, the grief. The grief of knowing what it could be if you truly loved me and yet to have to make do with a pale substitute.”
Lexyntas took another deep breath.
“And what if I were to say that I… that I love you too?”
“That could be the gratitude speaking. Now that you know I love you. Now that you know I want you to love me back. Maybe you just don’t want to disappoint me.”
“But… but, in that case, there is no way I can win. Whatever I say or do, you’ll always think it is not real.”
“Unless what, Thenoclon? Be clear for once. Spell it out, please. Unless what?”
“You could woo me.”
Lexyntas wasn’t sure he could trust his ears anymore.
“Yes, woo me. And make it convincing,” Thenoclon said as if it was the most reasonable proposal in the world. “I want you to make love to me, Lexyntas, but first I need to know that you love me as much as I love you. For myself. For me. For no other reason. I would really have to be convinced of that.”
“And what, pray, would convince you?” Lexyntas asked in a resigned tone.
“You could beg me to make love to you,“ Thenoclon said, his face serious. “If you were to beg me, that would probably convince me.”
“Beg you?” Lexyntas asked, stupefied and by now too tired to shout.
“Yes, tell me how much you want my arms around you. How — and where — you want me to touch you, caress you. Be specific. Tell me how you want me to cover you all over in kisses. Tell me how much you need me to make love to you. Again, be specific. Tell me how you get excited, just thinking about me. How you almost can’t control yourself and are tempted to help yourself. Then beg me to deliver you from your misery.”
“Beg me.” Thenoclon nodded.
Lexyntas was speechless. He managed only to utter some senseless noises, coming from deep in his throat.
“It’s absolutely your choice, of course. Your silence will be as good an answer as anything else.”
They had come to the foot of Traitors’ Hill.
“Take your time. For the moment we have other things to discuss. Come, I’ll race you to the top.”
With that the young Naodyman bolted away.
Lexyntas ran after him but found it difficult to keep up and impossible to overtake him.