It was two o’clock in the morning and all was quiet in Ormidon Castle. A detachment of the Royal Guard knocked at the door of the private apartments of the queen. After several minutes of insistent banging, it opened. The soldiers entered.
“What is the meaning of this?” a sleepy, thickset woman asked indignantly.
“Wake the queen, woman,” the captain of the Guard ordered.
“But it is the middle of the night.”
“Wake the queen. Now. Or we will do it ourselves.”
“All right, all right,” the woman mumbled and disappeared behind a door.
Minutes later Queen Emelasuntha came into the reception room. Well in her thirties, she was an impressive and striking figure.
“Captain,” she said with an icy voice, “I presume you have a very good reason to wake us at this late hour?”
“The best, Your Highness. A direct order from the high king. You are to depart from here within the hour. You can pack a few necessities for the journey. The rest of your possessions will be brought to you at a later date.”
“Where am I to be taken?”
“I don’t know, Madam,” the unhappy captain said. “My orders are to deliver you to the eastern gate where a company of Black Shields will take over the responsibility for your safety.”
“Can I bring my women?”
“I don’t think so, Madam. Personnel will be at your disposal where you are going to.”
“It seems I have underestimated Tenax,” Emelasuntha thought. “Damn it. He is placing me under arrest, no less. I will lose all my contacts and all my sources of information, unless the Sisterhood can find out where they are taking me. And he is using the Black Shields. They won’t hesitate a moment to kill me if I resist.”
“Very well, Captain, I won’t make your task more difficult than necessary.” She turned to the stocky woman. “Sobrathi, it seems I will not be needing your services for a while. When I return I will send for you. For now, you can go.”
“Yes, Madam,” Sobrathi replied softly and left the reception room.
Moments later she reappeared, clad in a thick woolen mantle. Emelasuntha went to a cabinet and took a few gold coins out of a purse.
“Take this to tide you over until my return,” she smiled as she pressed the coins and a ring she had covertly removed from her finger into Sobrathi’s hand.
“Thank you, Madam, that is very generous,” Sobrathi mumbled and shuffled out of the queen’s apartments.
Sobrathi made her way, at a quick an energetic pace, through the city of Ormidon. The streets became narrower and more winding, indicating that she had reached the oldest districts. She entered a packed tavern and pushed her way through the throng of guests to the back of the inn, where she opened a small door that gave access to an inner courtyard. There she climbed the rickety stairs and entered a door. Another staircase brought her to a landing. A door opened and a young woman of about eighteen years, with short black hair, came looking who had arrived.
“Sobrathi, come in,” she said.
“Quick, Martillia, I have disconcerting news.”
“Yeah, so have we,” Martillia replied.
Inside were two other women.
“Is that all? Just you two?” Sobrathi inquired.
“The Sisterhood is thinly spread at the moment,” Martillia shrugged. “We had to dispatch many of our sisters to the southern border to prepare for the arrival of the king. And, of course, a few of us went to the Northern Marches.”
“From where worrying news has reached us,” an older woman intervened. “It’s lucky that you’re here because we need to ask Emelasuntha’s advice.”
“Emelasuntha is under arrest, Brenacia” Sobrathi said. “She is to be deported within half an hour or so. Destination unknown. I came as fast I could.”
“What? Arrested? The queen?” Brenacia gasped.
“That worm Tenaxos,” Martillia hissed with contempt. “Typical scoundrelly behavior of a man.”
She spat on the floor.
“Sisters,” the fourth woman said, “let’s remain calm. We must find out where they are taking Emelasuntha.”
“The Black Shields are to escort her, Priestess” Sobrathi said. “They will leave by the eastern gate.”
The priestess looked at Martillia.
“I’m on it,” the young woman said, while girding her sword on.
“Sister,” the priestess said in a sober tone, “no heroics, please. The important thing is to find out where they are taking her. And be careful.”
“Bah, mere men won’t stop me.” Martillia grinned.
“These are not mere men, girl,” the priestess admonished her. “These are Black Shields.”
“What now? Emelasuntha is under arrest and her son hasn’t been seen in public for two weeks,” Brenacia asked, in a downcast voice, when Martillia had left.
“What?” Sobrathi exclaimed.
“Anaxantis hasn’t left the tower of Lorseth Castle in fourteen days,” Brenacia explained. “We don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
“We must ask for reinforcements from Zyntrea,” the priestess said pensively.
Martillia sat on horseback at the outskirts of a forest from where she had a clear view of the eastern gate of Ormidon Castle. She was just beginning to fear that she had arrived too late and that the party that was to bring Emelasuntha to her new place of confinement had already left, when the gates opened. They were well-maintained and made relatively little noise. Eight knights, all clad in black, and a closed wagon set on the road with creaking wheels. Martillia grinned self-satisfied. When the small convoy was a few hundred yards underway, a second, identical detachment of knights and a cart came through the gates. Minutes later a third group appeared.
“By the rotting penis of Sardoch,” Martillia cursed under her breath, “is there no end to the deviousness of men?”
“What now?” she thought. “They will take different roads. In which one are the Black Shields transporting Emelasuntha? Fuck. They may be just men, but in every group there are eight of them. I can only follow one group, and I can’t get close enough to the cart to see if Emelasuntha is in it.”
She followed the three groups from a distance. At the first fork in the highway one group took the left road and the other two the right one.
“The right way leads to the eastern provinces. They will probably split up later, but at least I know the general direction they’re taking. I’ll follow the other one. If I get lucky that’s the one carrying Emelasuntha. If not it will be a long search through the eastern provinces.”
Anaxantis had found it almost impossible to sleep the first night he was chained. The collar chafed his neck, and a flood of emotions overwhelmed him. At first he had been indignant and angry, but gradually he had calmed down a bit, and when he took stock of his situation quiet despair became his dominant feeling.
“Ehandar could just be right,” he feared. “He has the authority to deny anybody entrance to our private apartments. Demrac will probably not insist very long and will accept Ehandar’s explanation. Mother. She must have her spies here. She has tried with all that was in her to prevent me being sent here. She had to give in and was quarantined for her pains. However, she must have foreseen that she could fail and will have taken precautions for that eventuality. Whoever is her agent or agents in the Northern Army will have as their primary mission to keep her informed about me. It is unlikely that they will fall for Ehandar’s primitive ruse. Mother will be informed of my disappearance out of the public eye within days. But will she be able to do something?
“What if Ehandar decides to kill me? He has taken my medicines. Does he plan to let me die a so-called natural death? How could I have been so stupid, so immensely stupid? I knew how this family has worked its way upward from a robber’s lair to the royal castle. I knew to what lengths any member of this nest of vipers would go to rid themselves of possible rivals. How easily I have let myself be eliminated. And now I am totally in Ehandar’s power. The only thing that’s left for me to try is reason with him. Or plead. Or beg…”
He began to cry softly. Not only was his situation as good as hopeless, but he had been casually betrayed by the brother whose approval he had craved, and whom he had admired so much. Admired and more. But it was much too painful to let his mind wander in that direction.
After the first night a routine had set in. Before leaving, Ehandar shackled Anaxantis to a long chain attached to the wall near the fireplace. This allowed him to get to the bathroom. He could even reach the cabinet where he had put his books. He could also get to the balcony which offered total privacy, as it was at the backside of the castle, looking out over the sea. Only from a ship could he have been noticed. However the weight of the chain pulled uncomfortably at the collar when he moved from the wall to which it was attached, and he had to support it to remove the strain on his neck. Most of the day he stayed near the fireplace, seated on a folded blanket, occasionally fetching a book or using the bathroom.
The first few days had been the worst. Around noon of the second day he had begun to feel nauseous, and later his throat started to hurt fiercely. The pain had disappeared after a while, only to reappear in his right ear. By the time Ehandar had returned, he was shivering with fever. Ehandar had looked at him and dragged him to his little room. After he had chained him, he had brought a wooden bucket. The pain and the fever had kept Anaxantis awake and by morning he was almost certain that without medical care his days were numbered. The pain in his throat had reappeared and prevented him from eating and drinking, as swallowing had almost become impossible.
By late afternoon of the third day he had dragged himself to the bathroom and hung over the stone tub. For hours he felt as if he had to throw up, but nothing came of it, except some bouts of painful dry heaving. Only the fourth day he began to vomit, after severe convulsions. What he regurgitated seemed to come from deeper than his stomach and consisted of long, sticky strands of slime. The taste and the smell were horrible, and his stomach muscles were hurting from the severe contractions. The bathroom had streaming fresh water, thanks to a bifurcation of the aqueduct, so that he could rinse his mouth. When finally, after hours, the heaving stopped he felt weak and drained. He barely managed to crawl back to his place near the hearth before he fell down, exhausted, on his improvised nest of blankets and cushions.
Ehandar had found him like that at evening and had had carried him, barely conscious, to his room. He had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep. When he woke again, he found himself back at his place near the hearth, lying on several blankets and covered by a sheet. It was late in the afternoon. He felt weak, but all pain had completely vanished. Ehandar had left a bowl of watery gruel within reach. After drinking all of it, he felt much better.
He had tried to reason with Ehandar and eventually had pleaded. Nothing seemed to penetrate the wall of stubbornness his older brother had erected around himself. At last he had erupted in impotent rage.
“You can’t do this, Ehandar, you can’t do this. By the Gods, I am your brother, you can’t treat me like this.”
“Can’t I?” Ehandar had mocked. “Little brother, you are like the wild rose that doesn’t want to be picked from the field, but guess what happens if I want to have it.”
“If you pick me from the fields, I will prick you.”
“Annoying, little wild rose, but hardly deadly.”
“The wound may be small, Ehandar, but it will never, ever close and drop by drop it will drain you of all your lifeblood.”
“Idle threats, little rose,” Ehandar had shrugged.
Ehandar sat in the war room, when a guard announced that a knight by the name of Gorth of Sidullia who claimed to be a personal friend had arrived.
“Gorth, by the Gods, man, I am glad to see you,” he exclaimed when the man, covered in dust, entered the room. He had half long, dark red curly hair, a pale countenance and a winning smile.
“Ehandar, sorry, Lord Governor, how have you been?” Gorth grinned broadly.
The men fell into each other’s arms. Ehandar took a cup out of a cabinet and filled it with wine out of a jug that stood on the table.
“Here,” he said, “you must be thirsty.”
Gorth downed his cup in one long swig and held it out for a refill.
“Tell,” Ehandar said expectantly after he had refilled Gorth’s cup, “how have you and our friends been?”
“Everything is going as planned, Ehandar. The six of us managed to get a commission as junior officers on the staff of the Army of the South. We’re firmly embedded in the very heart of the army. Not only that, we managed to bribe some of your brothers’ servants. We have three spies with Tenaxos and two with Portonas. Rullio handles them, disguised and using a false name, of course. Even if they betray us, they can pose no threat because they know nothing. Not even who they are working for.”
“Any useful results? Or is it too early?”
“No. That’s why I am here. I am afraid the news is not good. Look, it is all very vague still, but it seems Portonas is not going to wait for your father to vacate the throne in a natural way. One of our spies overheard shards of a conversation between him and his two closest friends. There seems to have been talk about your father being past it and your brother Tenaxos being too weak. That’s about everything we know for sure.”
Ehandar understood immediately. He clenched his hands on the arms of his chair.
“Portonas? Yes, it could very well be,” Ehandar thought, with dismay. “If Father dies, Tenaxos succeeds him and unlike me, Portonas is within easy reach of the crown. He must have decided that it is not wise to wait until nature takes its course. But it is such a dangerous game. High treason, parricide combined with regicide, no less. If his plans are discovered he is as good as dead. Father won’t hesitate a moment to have him executed. On the other hand, if he manages to eliminate both Father and Tenaxos at the same time, who is going to dispute his right to the throne? And then he will come after me. He won’t care about weakening the southern border or about the threat of the Mukthars. Can I even count on the Army of the North? What will Demrac do? He is a personal friend of Father, but once the deed is done, how will he react? The officers will follow him, not me. By the Gods, maybe Portonas will just order my arrest and have me executed by my own troops.”
Gorth looked with concern at Ehandar’s face.
“No reason to panic yet, my friend,” Gorth said. “Your father knows how to protect himself. This could very well mean Portonas’s downfall and then you move up one place nearer the throne.”
“Yes, maybe so,” Ehandar replied. His lips twitched, barely noticeable. “But what if his plans are successful? You must try to find out what he has in store for me.”
“If I am warned in time I could, as a last resort, flee into the territory of the city states and ask asylum from one of them. On horseback I can be at the eastern border within two, three days. With some preparation I could take the treasure of the army with me.
“Preparation? But who can I trust here?”
For the first time Ehandar realized that he was all alone. His friends were far away, and he was only obeyed because of a royal charter that proclaimed him lord governor. Nobody owed him personal loyalty.
“We are already trying to find out more, Ehandar, have no fear,” Gorth said with a reassuring smile. “But, as I said, it’s doubtful that Portonas has formed a detailed plan of action yet. We have plenty of time still. The king and your brothers leave for the southern border in a week. And so do we, as officers of the staff. We will be able to closely follow whatever turn this takes. Speaking of brothers: how is Anaxantis? Not too much trouble is he, the little imp?”
“Anaxantis is sick. Has been for a month now,” Ehandar said, distracted. “But where are my manners? Come, I will arrange for lodgings for you, for a bath and a good meal. We have an excellent guesthouse within the castle. The day is almost finished, and you must long for a soft bed. We will talk more tomorrow.”
When he had made the arrangements, Ehandar returned to the war room and poured himself a cup of wine. While looking with empty eyes at the map that hung from the wall, he downed cup after cup.
“Portonas is not the only danger. The defenses of the northern border are nonexistent. There is nothing but a few ruins of wooden encampments. The last time the Mukthars attacked, they came with an army of 8,000 warriors. I have to resist them with barely 3,500 men of my own, and they can attack at any given place on an undefended line of almost 200 miles. At the same time I must keep an eye on Portonas. I could be arrested, but he could also decide that it is much easier to murder me, or have me poisoned. And there is nobody I can trust. I am a sitting duck and the attack can come from two sides.”
Outwardly he kept his composure, but inwardly he realized how precarious and vulnerable his position was. He felt the panic mounting as he mulled over the facts again and again. But the conclusion was always the same: he was trapped. Control over the situation had slipped through his fingers.
“No, I never had any control to begin with, and it is Father who has put me in this predicament. He must have known that three regiments and a handful of cavalry were grossly insufficient to hold the Northern Marches. Does Father want me to die here?”
The moment Ehandar entered the room, Anaxantis saw that he was a nervous wreck.
“Something terrible must have happened or he must have received very bad news,” he thought terrified. “He is going to take it out on me.”
He tried to make himself as small and inconspicuous as possible, but it was no use. After removing his mantle, his sword and his tunic, Ehandar came to him, and without a word unlocked the collar from the chain, pulled him up and dragged him to the table. Anaxantis smelled the wine on his brother’s breath while Ehandar ripped off his shirt. He forced the younger boy’s upper body down, exposing his back, and shackled his hands, stretching his arms above his head and winding the chain several times around one of the legs of the table.
“Please, Ehandar, no…” Anaxantis pleaded. “What have I done?”
“Nothing and everything,” Ehandar raged silently. “But it doesn’t matter. It so happens that you are about the only thing I can still control and I want to hear you cry out and beg for mercy.”
He took his leather sword belt and lashed out viciously several times. Anaxantis yelled out in pain at first, but then managed to dampen the sound to a soft moaning.
“Beg, you worthless worm, beg and I might stop. Are you too defying me?”
Ehandar was heavily sweating. The sixth blow drew blood. After about ten lashes he stopped. Anaxantis hadn’t spoken a word, but his eyes had filled up with tears.
“I’ll break you yet,” Ehandar thought, almost insane with drunken rage. “If pain alone will not do it, then maybe this will.”
He pulled down Anaxantis’s pants and drawers and let them fall to his ankles.
“No, Ehandar, no, don’t do this,” Anaxantis screamed.
Besides smarting from the lashes on his back, he now felt totally humiliated as well. Then the first blows, dealt with much more force than those on his back, fell on his exposed behind. The pain was excruciating and he couldn’t prevent himself from crying out in anguish. Tears began to run down his cheeks.
When Ehandar stopped Anaxantis hoped the worst was over, but then he felt himself being turned around. He now lay with his back upon the table, his legs dangling down and his member protruding obscenely. His eyes met Ehandar’s, gazing down upon his naked body. Anaxantis had never felt more degraded in his life. Then Ehandar lifted his brother’s legs, yanking the pants and drawers from his ankles, and forced them over his chest. Anaxantis saw his older brother stare deliberately at his entrance and then look into his eyes. He averted them in shame.
“He wants me to know that he has me completely in his power, that he can do to me what he wants. And he can,” Anaxantis thought, mortified.
Ehandar spread Anaxantis’s legs apart and draped them, one over each of his shoulders. When he dared look again, Anaxantis noticed that his brother had lowered his pants and drawers and sported a full-blown erection.
“Ehandar, please, no, you can’t do this,” he shrieked, panicking in earnest now.
Ehandar aligned his member and pushed with the tip against Anaxantis’s entrance. He increased the pressure and slowly slid inside. Anaxantis felt himself tear apart and howled in agony as he felt the full length of his brother’s shaft filling him up. He forced himself to look up at Ehandar’s face and met his brother’s cold, dark eyes studying him. Then Ehandar began moving rhythmically inside Anaxantis, who clenched his eyelids tightly together at the new and unfamiliar pain. Ehandar stopped moving, but stayed inside him, and grabbing Anaxantis’s length began to stimulate it.
“Let go, please,” Anaxantis whimpered. He felt his member swell without being able to stop it.
Ehandar strengthened his grip and moved his hand up and down faster and faster. He felt the younger boy’s sphincter contract around his shaft and saw the semen spurt out over his body. Anaxantis convulsed in unpreventable ecstasy and at the same time was horrified to see that Ehandar was looking unabashedly at his naked body writhing in the thralls of passion, the milky fluid glistening on his belly. He was devastated with shame and cried tears of humiliation. He desperately wanted to hide somewhere, far away from his violator, but Ehandar once more began moving inside him. His thrusts became more forceful and Anaxantis could do nothing but resignedly undergo the inevitable. At last Ehandar came inside him. Once he had got his breath back, he withdrew himself harshly.
Anaxantis lay motionless on the table, weeping with impotent rage and utter mortification.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Ehandar asked with a sardonic grin. “I think I’ll keep you around a little while yet. You may have your uses.”
He unlocked the shackles and took hold of the collar. Then he dragged his naked younger brother, who was still crying, to the little room where he slept. With a kick against his rear Ehandar pushed him inside. After locking the collar to the chain on the wall he closed the door, leaving the violated and soiled boy in the dark.
Anaxantis fell down on his bed, weeping inconsolably at the thought of the brutal way he had lost his virginity, the violation of his body, the shattered image of his older brother and his lost innocence.
“I loved you,” he complained silently. “All that you took I would have given you willingly, if only you had asked me. I didn’t know it, but I loved you. I would have done anything you wanted from me.”
The same thoughts turned around and around in his head, and his sobbing became gradually a loud wailing of bottomless despair. The door opened and a furious Ehandar, still naked, entered the room. Anaxantis cowered upon the bed and curled up in terror.
“Be quiet, you little whore.”
Ehandar took his member in his hand and urinated upon the frightened boy, soaking his mattress and his covers. He aimed at Anaxantis’s head and let the stream slowly descend, first upon his face, then over his belly, his blond bush and his member.
“You’re cleaned. Now shut up. If you make me come back, I’ll bring my belt and, by the Gods, I will beat you so hard you won’t be able to stand up for a week.”
He turned around, left, and slammed the door shut.
Anaxantis sat on his soiled bed, shivering, miserable and defiled, with Ehandar’s urine dripping off him and his semen still inside him. He wrapped a clean part of the covers around himself and moved to a dry part of the bed.
“I hate you, Ehandar,” he raged inside, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. I hate you like I have never hated anyone or anything before. I hate you with a burning passion that will never quench until I have repaid you in full, no, until I have repaid you a hundredfold. For I swear, I will get you for this. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but if the Gods grant me life, the time will come that you will rue the day you ever laid a hand upon me. I will bring you down, Ehandar. By the Gods, I will bring you down, lower than the lowest slave. I will take everything you hold dear away from you, piece by piece, and then I will rob you of what remains, until nothing is left but your naked existence, your bare life. Then I will take that too, and I will not even allow your carcass a grave.
“I will obliterate you, blot you out, extinguish you. Drop by drop, Ehandar, drop by drop. This wound will never close.”
He didn’t sleep that night, engrossed as he was in his laborious and intricate plans for vengeance.
But while he was plotting the terrible revenge he would inflict upon Ehandar, the tears stopped.