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NIGHTJAR


Copyright 2018 Gabbo de la Parra


Published by Kidwell-Lovely at Smashwords


Smashwords Edition License Notes


Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.


This ebook is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events, the names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.


This ebook contains sexually explicit scenes and language and may be considered offensive by some readers (M/M foreplay and intercourse).



TABLE OF CONTENTS



1. TAKEN

2. FAVORITE

3. KEPT

4. GUTS

5. CONFUSION

6. UNFORGIVABLE

7. TEMPTATION

8. TRUST

9. TRICKERY

10. GOAL

11. LINCHPIN

12. PLAN

13. BURDEN

14. FORGIVENESS

15. WISH

16. EQUALITY

17. KNOWLEDGE

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1. TAKEN


The gryphon riders are your solution.”

—Oracle of Apheilon at Cummia



“Oh, my King,” the warrior moaned.


Bracken didn’t like to be called king. All kings were a bunch of peacocks; he wasn’t like them. He took the cock out of his mouth and grunted, “Harder.”


It was great to have mighty cocks in both his holes, rewarding his warriors for a successful battle. These two were not the first fucking him tonight and would not be the last. The ambrosia of victory made him insatiable. He was proud— no other king of the Ten Kingdoms could say he had defeated Munus.


The hands gripping his hips pulled and guided. The hands pulling his braid and holding his jaw commanded. All three swayed as their bodies collided, dimmed lamps creating soft shadows in stark contrast with their powerful motions.


Long ago, before his older brother died, Bracken had wanted to be a scholar, but duty trumped dreams. Still, Apheilon was good; Bracken would never have known the pleasure of rough, calloused hands on his body if he were a man of letters instead of a warrior, protector of his people. He would not change a thing.


“So close, my King.” Jaxton, the one ramming his mouth, shuddered.


Bracken heard a ragged chuckle behind him. “I’ll beat you to it,” hissed Brummi, speeding his pumping.


On all fours, Bracken was a beast in heat, ready to climax without even touching his own hard cock. He moved the hand he had been using to clutch the unpretentious covers of his makeshift bed to tug between his legs— to join his men in completion. Three volcanoes erupted simultaneously. The internal scream of his climax was glorious as he was flooded in both ends.


Yells outside the tent sharply removed them from blissful heights. Their camp was under attack. One of his men entered the tent, his eyes wild. “King Bracken, gryphon riders!”


Fuck.


“Ride your vultures. Don’t leave a single one of those motherless dog-sons alive.”


Jaxton, Brummi, and Bracken jumped and scattered to grab weapons. Before the soldier could turn to leave the tent, a sword skewered him— his last sound a gurgled scream. They quickly picked up their long daggers; a tent wasn’t a place to wield big swords like his Charos.


Their nudity wasn’t a concern.


Ten enemies rushed in. Metal clashed. Bodies swirled.


Trained to fight in enclosed spaces like his low-ceiling tent, Bracken was surprised by the equal ability of his enemies. Their short swords didn’t arch but worked laterally and horizontally. Still, enemy limbs were severed; blood gushed and stained. Bracken rolled to avoid a sharp edge coming at him, the coarse floor mats feeling strange against his bare skin. He almost hurt himself with the main post of the tent. Luckily, the weapon of one of the attackers got stuck in that same post, giving him the chance to stab the bastard in his armpit to disable him and finish him with a quick throat slash. The gash sprayed blood over him.


Bracken lost Brummi first. By the time Jaxton went down, Bracken was surrounded by three wickedly thin swords pointing at his neck. “Come quietly, Lakon. We have orders to take you alive. I don’t like to disappoint my master.”


Bracken growled but let his long dagger fall. Better to live and fight another day.


That resolution flung dangerously as he stepped out of his tent. His camp had been razed. Not ten paces from his tent, four enemies were lancing the last giant bearded vulture alive, Silvercall— his own mount. Slowly rising in the east, the first rays of the new day made her white feathers look almost golden as she lay dying.


They tied Bracken’s hands and feet, then tossed him like a stinky bale on the lap of a rider. The gryphon jerked impatiently, eager to fly.


Shrieks and screeches accompanied the launching of a myriad gryphon riders. Bracken wondered how they had managed to come to their camp so quietly and surprise them.


They flew west toward the ocean, the taste of cum and blood on Bracken’s tongue— the seed of fallen warriors silently dripping from his hole. His hard-on softened as the adrenaline left his body. Mourning and dread were not options… yet.


Soon, potent wings sailed over Cummia, the islet where the Oracle of Apheilon resided. Only those strong enough to swim from the beach and brave the shark-infested stretch to reach the jagged shore surrounding the temple were worthy of an answer. Bracken had done it only once, for his people.


Perhaps if the vulhurs had been ready…


No. Lakonians didn’t dwell in “ifs.” When they heard the music, they’d face it and dance.


His custodian’s gryphon, and several more, alighted on a massive ship in the middle of the ocean. Bracken assumed the others continued to Munus. The sun was almost in its zenith; sweat made Bracken’s eyes itch. Good thing his hair was still tightly braided. He was pushed to his feet and untied. Sailors started to fill the deck. Some looked interested, others like they had better things to do than watch what was about to happen. Whatever that was.


“Bracken the Lakon. Rider of Vultures. King of Lakoneh. Welcome to my ship.” The voice should have been a whip, instead it sounded like rough fingers over his lips, prying them open. He heard the murmurs and noticed how those uninterested before were eager now.


Bracken turned to face the man. “Adder.” He would not say his enemy’s titles.


Adder tilted his head sideways; he smirked. “You would not acknowledge me as your equal?” He tsked and shook his head. “It will not change the outcome anyway.”


“I’m your prisoner. We are not equals.”


“You’re still a king.”


Bracken would still be a king after Adder bent him and fucked him in front of all his men, as was the custom with the vanquished. What would happen after that was a different matter. The shriek of a gryphon hardened Bracken. This fucker had killed his valiant men and their precious vultures, including his own Silvercall. He would take the humiliation for them. He would be claimed, but he was still bathed in the blood of his enemies.


Two soldiers grabbed his arms to guide him to Adder. Bracken shook them off. “I can go by myself.”


Icy eyes appraised him. “Eager?” asked Adder, and the men on the deck cackled. He was in full battle gear. Two manservants started helping him to undress.


“Why delay the inevitable? That’s not the Lakonian way.”


Forty paces later, Bracken stood in front of a naked, tall, and muscular Adder. His dark hair with faint whispers of silver enhanced the golden band adorned with three black diamonds over his brow. Bracken was shorter, but he didn’t need to raise his head to look at those cunning, night eyes. Bracken had a lot more white in his hair, but they were not old men; it was the burden of royalty and ruling.


Adder’s hard cock glistened in the midday blaze in its nest of night curls. Under other circumstances, Bracken would have appreciated length and girth and been excited about it. Same for the massive chest covered in delightful fur. Now it was pure duty, as many things had been in his life.


One of the manservants came with a pot of oil. Adder poured some over his cock, coating it. “Turn around and on your knees, King of Lakoneh.”


“You will take me standing. If you force me to my knees your cock will pay for it.”


These words gave pause to Adder— but fleetingly. If Bracken hadn’t been staring him down he would not have seen it.


“As you wish,” Adder said. A pinch of something Bracken couldn’t decipher made the voice deeper, almost heady.


A big hand found Bracken’s neck as soon as he gave his back to Adder. It caressed his Adam’s apple, while the oil-coated cock breached him. Soon Bracken was flush against Adder’s groin. It felt so fucking good he almost moaned. Almost. He didn’t close his eyes in bliss either. He glared, making eye contact with every single man on that putrid deck.


But this dog-son, Adder, didn’t batter Bracken like he was supposed to. He did it slowly, languidly, nearly savoring it. This wasn’t the way. The heat, the slowness, the hand caressing his throat, the fingers playing with his pubic hair, all conspired to unhinge Bracken. It was hard to resist; it was hard not to push back and impale himself on his enemy’s wonderful cock.


“You’re going to embarrass yourself,” Adder whispered playfully in Bracken’s ear.


“Damn you.”


“Beg me to stop.”


“No.”


“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”


“No.”


Adder was whispering, while Bracken was answering back loudly. Surely the men around them thought Bracken was saying “no” out of fear or due to the humiliation of being vanquished. Adder grabbed Bracken’s cock and tugged.


“No.”


“I’m going to get you hard and make you come.”


“NO. That is not the way, and you know it!”


“Do I look like a give a fuck about the way?”


“Adder, stop,” Bracken sighed.


“Beg, so my men can hear you.”


“Adder, King of Munus, Beloved of Erin, Master of Gryphons, please stop,” Bracken said loudly. The only thing making it a plea was the word “please.” Everything else sounded like a command— or an insult. He knew Adder would not stop, but Bracken couldn’t bring himself to beg like a weakling. He would rather swallow his tongue to defuse his unhelpful libido.


“That’s a good king.” Adder pulled Bracken’s braid down, making his taut, wired body arch.


After three powerful thrusts, Adder came with a war cry that had his men cheering.


Bracken expected to be tossed toward the soldiers approaching them as Adder’s cock vacated him.


But Adder surprised him; he turned Bracken around and touched his brow with Bracken’s. They stood like that for several heartbeats. When they separated, he said to his men, “Bathe and clothe him. He and I will have a meal after that in the deckhouse.”


Bracken was taken below deck, where soldiers— not manservants— attended him. They let him soak his sore muscles in a wooden tub filled with warm water for a while. He was scrubbed and perfumed and given a rich burgundy tunic, a belt made of golden circular plates, and soft sandals that felt like pristine clouds. He didn’t let them unbraid his hair. Hair could be untied when you were done battling; Bracken didn’t think he was done yet.


2. FAVORITE


“What in the name of Erin was that?”


“I don’t know.” Adder ran a hand through his hair. He paced around the deckhouse.


“You didn’t break him,” said Renan, surlier than usual.


“I didn’t feel like breaking him.”


“You know he’s a fucking trophy not a pet, right?”


“I’m aware of that, Great Counselor.” Adder gave his best friend and second in command a nasty look. “I just couldn’t.”


“You have twelve Kept, five War Trophies and seven Offerings. I’ve never seen you hesitate to break a War Trophy. Or an Offering for that matter.” Renan made that weird sound that was supposed to be a chuckle. Most people cringed when his friend made that sound.


“How do you want me to explain to you something I, myself, cannot begin to grasp?”


“You weren’t just unable to break him, now you’re having a meal with him! He’s supposed to be under lock until we reach the palace!”


“What is he going to do, Renan? Fling himself into the ocean? He knows he is a trophy, and he has honor.”


“I don’t know. His reputation says he is wicked in battle.”


“By losing her king, Lakoneh has learned her lesson. The battle is over. Munus won.”


Renan’s hand rested on Adder’s shoulder. “Are you sure you won?”


A knock on the door saved Adder from having to deal with that question. He didn’t have a clear answer for it, and that was disturbing.


Renan went to open the door and, with an obnoxious flourish, gestured Bracken inside. “King Bracken.”


Adder caught the minute flinch at the word “king.” He moved to the table and started fixing a plate for Bracken. The silence made him turn back toward the two men. “What’s going on?”


“I’m trying to gauge if he has a weapon. There’s nothing under his tunic, but…”


Adder didn’t roll his eyes, but he thought about it. He addressed Bracken, “You’re going to behave, right?”


Bracken gave a withering look to Renan before answering. “You claimed me in front of your men. I’m your property now. I know my place.” And just when Adder thought he was done, Bracken added, “Besides, if I wanted to do something dishonorable, as long as my hands are free I don’t need a weapon…”


What a wonderful contradiction Bracken the Lakon was. “You see, Great Counselor? He’s going to behave.”


“That’s not what he said,” Renan sputtered as if someone had hit him with a flying chamber pot.


“I’d like some privacy now.” Adder dismissed Renan with a wink.


His friend left, closing the door quietly but with a droning muttering that was a lot worse than a slamming door.


“Here.” Adder offered Bracken the plate he had been serving.


“Where are your manservants?”


“There are no manservants on this ship. The two men you saw helping me undress are punished soldiers. They did something very stupid and cannot wear the colors of Munus for two moons.”


Bracken shook his head. “You’re a cruel man. The colors of his people are sacred to a warrior.”


“You’d rather have them lashed.”


“I don’t know what they did, so I cannot rule on their sentence, but two moons without the colors of your country is cruelty.”


Adder sprang, like the viper that gave him his name, and grabbed Bracken by the jaw with one hand, squeezing it. “You think I’m cruel?”


Bracken narrowed his eyes and closed his fists, but didn’t move to free himself. “I’m undecided,” he growled between his teeth.


Adder’s hand snapped open. “That you are.”


This king of Lakoneh was going to drive him crazy. All the control he had shown while being claimed, when it was obvious that he was enjoying it, had turned Adder’s fury into scorching lust. Not the kind of lust easily sated with conquering your partner, but the one that needed slow methodical determination to subjugate, to own, to possess. Adder wanted to see Bracken writhing, overwhelmed with pleasure. He wanted to shatter those walls that weren’t fear but discipline. Yes, Adder had bent other men, and they had shown restraint, but because the action was alien to them and it was their duty to grit their teeth and take it. This rider of vultures was something Adder hadn’t encountered before.


“Why do you look at me like that?”


Bracken might know the situation, but he wasn’t going to stop being a king easily, and that was fine with Adder.


“How am I looking at you?”


“You seem inclined to open my head and examine my brain.”


Adder tilted his head and stared into those ghostly eyes. Bracken’s eyes were like a cloudless summer sky when the sun was at its highest, so light they were almost colorless, and his tanned skin made them more haunting by contrast. He walked to the door without answering and opened it. He yelled, “Raise anchor. We’re going home.”


The men cried, “Adder,” in response.


Returning to the table, Adder started to fix his own plate. He felt Bracken’s eyes following and studying him. He sat. “Let’s eat. My palace will be a better place for examinations.”


“If you say so, Beloved of Erin.”


“You know, you say those words as if it is an insult. Don’t you worship the goddess?”


Bracken looked at Adder as if he had sprouted another head. “Of course I do. She’s the goddess of the land, the queen of the waters, mother of gryphons and vultures and all nature. She and Apheilon are everything, the balance, day and night, life and death.”


“You’re reciting like a scholar not a believer.”


“And you said the examinations were going to happen at your palace.” Bracken grinned cheekily. This made his features soften, but not in a weak way. It made them look almost divine, as if he were a statue of Apheilon come to life.


“You’re right. Let’s finish the meal and go outside for some fresh air.”


They didn’t speak another word until done. Adder stood up and gestured toward the door. Outside two gryphons were grooming each other under the vigilant eyes of their riders. One of the punished soldiers vigorously dried Adroit, Adder’s gryphon, who apparently had decided to take a dive and procure his own meal from the ocean. Now and then, Adroit would poke him with his beak, as if aware of the man’s sins.


“I thought they would be noisier,” Bracken commented as they moved fore.


This surprised Adder since he had expected a silent Bracken for the rest of the journey. Still, he answered with his own question. “Are your vultures noisy animals?”


“No.”


“Then what made you think gryphons would be so?”


“I haven’t been around them much, but the ones I recall were a loud bunch.”


“They were either untrained or sick.”


“Oh.”


They stopped at arm’s length from Adroit. The gryphon moved his head forward so Adder could pet him. Adder did it absentmindedly, mostly gauging Bracken’s reactions. Those magnificent eyes softened as Bracken heard the soft murmurs Adroit was making while petted. “You can touch him,” Adder offered.


Bracken narrowed his eyes and his features turned murderous. “Your men killed my vulture.”


Before he could censor his mouth, Adder said softly, “I’m sorry.”


“Are you?”


The words hadn’t been quiet, and the two riders close to them stared. “Do not question me, Lakon,” Adder said angrily, more for the benefit of his men than from actual ire. Adroit looked at him quizzically, thanks to his tone.


“That’s what I thought.”


It had come out under Bracken’s breath, but Adder heard it nonetheless.


This was not what Adder had intended. He gestured toward starboard. They propped their elbows on the rails as they reached the bulwark. The silhouette of Busar was a faint interruption of the horizon; soon the engulfing twilight would make it disappear. Adder had been in the yearly summit of the Five Ocean Kingdoms in Gikid. It moved from island to island every year, and in two years it would be back to Munus, where Adder would have to deal with the other four kings and the thousand people each used as retinue. Why couldn’t they be like him, who traveled only with Renan and a team of the Royal Guard to such events?


“Which Ocean Kingdom is that? We are not moving toward it, so it’s not Munus,” Bracken asked quietly, his gaze toward the darkening waters.


“It’s Busar.”


“I went there my first year as king. The wedding of their Crowned Prince to one of the princes of the other islands. The kingdom of Zigag, if I’m not mistaken.”


“I don’t remember that wedding.”


“You weren’t king yet. Your father was bedridden. I think no one from Munus was there.”


Adder chuckled. “I’m older than you, but you were king before me.”


“Destiny has no favorites, only victims,” Bracken said in a convinced tone.


Adder exhaled softly as the night neared. “We were not born to be kings.”


“And yet, here we are.”


3. KEPT


Bracken slept alone in an unlocked cabin. His body simply decided that it was best to sleep instead of being awake and alert when his situation was already clear. He had been claimed by Adder as War Trophy and thus bound by honor to accept this man’s ruling over him. He would be a Kept, and that was that. There were no Kept in Lakoneh; Bracken didn’t leave enemies alive to become his pets. That was the Lakonian way: give your enemy a just death. Still, accepting your destiny was also honorable.


The loud dealings of mooring awoke Bracken. The entire ship was a blur of activity as he stepped onto the deck. Sails were folded, men yelled, gryphons flew in all directions. He stood out of the way, admiring and absorbing everything. Perhaps this would be his life now since Adder traveled a lot and might take a Kept with him for entertaining. Bracken wondered how many Kept Adder had.


The peace between the five Ocean Kingdoms and the five Land Kingdoms was relative at best and maintained with constant skirmishes. Big battles, like the one he thought he had won only to lose his men afterward, were rare but inevitable in an area where any slight could be considered a war declaration. To Bracken’s knowledge, a king would only have high-ranking enemy officers, princes, or another king as Kept. Adder had subjugated the Land Kingdom of Vurgeg, Lakoneh’s north neighbor, three years ago, but their king hadn’t been at battle. Now Vurgeg was vassal to Munus, and all other kingdoms were trying to be extremely nice with the most powerful Ocean Kingdom. Bracken had had an honorable motive for war, so if this was the outcome, he welcomed it with acceptance in his heart.


Adder walked toward him with a friendly face. Like there was a reason for them to be friends. Although, Bracken felt uncharacteristically confused by the way things had unfolded between them the previous day. His body had taken away the option to think about it last night. Now it was Adder’s presence.


“Morning. We’re going to Gryphonire.”


“I’ve never ridden a gryphon,” Bracken said, unapologetic.


“I’m riding you.” Adder smirked.


Sure you will.


Bracken didn’t answer, just kept his face blank. A soldier came with Adroit. Her saddle was a rich thing of luminous leather and gold adornments. Adder climbed easily since he only wore light armor. The way his powerful lightly-haired thighs held him in place made Bracken think of the ruthless battering that never took place.


Adder extended a hand. “Come”


Clasping Adder’s wrist, Bracken put a foot on the stirrup and was pulled upward. It was wrong the way his body reacted as he sat between pommel and groin. Almost the same position he had been in when Adder claimed him.


Reins in one hand, Adder pulled Bracken flush to his chest; the plates of his cuirass reminded Bracken this wasn’t supposed to be enjoyable. He whispered in Bracken’s ear, “Ready?”


The soft blow was a malign caress. Bracken couldn’t help an involuntary shiver. This angered him. He growled, “The Lakon is always ready.”


“We’ll see. Home, Adroit!” Adder ordered with a pull to the reins.


Adroit launched herself upward almost vertically, something vultures didn’t do. The gryphon did several circles, making the enormous ship look smaller and smaller, then headed south across the island.


“Why to Gryphonire and not to the city palace?” Bracken asked just to shake his mind away from memories of Silvercall and the nuisance of Adder’s body pressed against his.


“Two reasons. I want to see my son after a week away from him and my true bed is at Gryphonire.”


And his fuck toys need to be close to his bed.


Beyond the large fortified capital city of Munus, Varvarar, they flew over gentle green slopes and hills, grazed by all manner of bovidae. Extensive grain and produce farms colored the plains. Bracken knew of the rich metal mines toward the northern end of the island. These things made the people of Munus not just healthy and prosperous but eager to expand their power. Under normal circumstances Lakoneh would not envy Munus’s wealth, but things had been hard last winter. It all led to Bracken being on the back of a gryphon with his traitorous body relishing Adder’s harsh embrace during the entire two hundred and fifteen mileh flight. An hour of sensual torment.


Gryphonire was a tall rock formation in the middle of a solitary, shallow bay and only accessible by wings. One thing was to hear about it and another to see it with your own eyes. A formidable complex confidently lay on top, blinding in its splendor of long, white-marbled columns and walls, crowned with red-tiled roofs. Bracken was awestruck.


Adder must have sensed it in Bracken’s body language because he murmured, full of himself, “Impressive, huh?”


A childish part of him, the one that had been climbing inside him irreverently and steadily since Bracken mounted the gryphon, wanted to say, “Meh.” But the honorable adult, the respectful adult said, “Very much.”


“I’m glad you like it.”


These words didn’t make any sense. Why would Adder care what Bracken thought of his nest palace? The way he spoke, the way he tilted his head to observe Bracken was pure nonsense; it made Bracken uneasy.


Bracken wasn’t keen on uneasiness.


Gryphons and their riders came and went from the many terraces jutting from the monumental grey rock. They alighted on the one closest to the complex and dismounted. A muscular red-haired man and a boy that looked like a small version of Adder came to greet them, along with guards and servants to handle Adroit. The boy jumped into Adder’s arms, exclaiming, “Abba, I missed you so much!”


Adder kissed the boy’s face many times while ruffling his hair. The boy giggled, content. “I missed you too, son.” Adder squeezed the boy with his powerful arms. “A lot.” He turned to the redhead with a nod. “Selleck.”


“My King,” said Selleck with a reverent bow.


“This is your new charge, Bracken the Lakon. Rider of Vultures. King of Lakoneh,” Adder informed Selleck, pointing at Bracken with a swift jaw movement.


“King Bracken.” Selleck bowed again.


Bracken nodded politely.


“Lakon, meet the Overseer of the Kept.” Then the boy elbowed Adder. This made Adder chuckle. “And this is my son, Prince Deron.”


“Hello!” said Deron with all the enthusiasm of a whirlwind.


“Nice to meet you, Prince Deron,” Bracken offered as he lightly bowed.


“Selleck, I want the Lakon in my chambers after the evening meal. You two are dismissed.” Adder stood there with a stony demeanor, completely at odds with everything he had done until that moment.


“Yes, sire. Please follow me, King Bracken.”


Bracken followed Selleck, a bit miffed. Before they exited the terrace, he looked back and caught Adder staring at him with his head a little tilted and his brow furrowed as Deron talked to him animatedly.


It seems I am not alone in my confusion.


They moved through ample rock tunnels to emerge on the beautiful complex’s central courtyard. Men and women went about their daily activities, the calling of gryphons now and then interrupting the natural human bustle. They wound between columnar corridors of white marble adorned with giant vases of precious metals. A standing man could easily fit in any of these odd vases. Perhaps that was their actual purpose.


Selleck stopped in front of a huge, darkwood door. Intricate battle scenes lined it. There were no soldiers guarding it. “Here we are. This is the residence of the Kept.” He pushed the door.


The place was not what Bracken had been expecting. It looked like the monstrous love child of an inn and a gymnasium. Exercise equipment, game tables, and huge canopy beds with colorful drapes. The walls were pink and red; Bracken had never seen pink walls, not even in whorehouses.


At the other end of the strange room, a full pool glittered. A pool where something unpleasant was happening.


“He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it.” Bracken eyed Selleck narrowly. Why wasn’t he stopping the two men forcing a younger one?


“I don’t think you are supposed to enjoy it. Penetration hurts.”


“Experience?”


“And a most hurtful one.” Selleck shook his head. “Don’t worry, if they get too rough with him I’ll stop them, and if they hurt the boy more than needed, I’ll punish them.”


“Magnanimous.”


“Oh, shut up.” Selleck grabbed Bracken’s upper arm and guided him forward. “Don’t let this moment disturb you. Those are two War Trophies making an Offering pay for a prank.” Selleck must have seen Bracken’s confusion written all over his face because he explained, “Offerings are sons of wealthy families offered for a boon or to ingratiate themselves with our king. Seven Offerings and five War Trophies share this space— well, now six with you, King Bracken.


“Those Offerings are little demon pests that gang up on the War Trophies. Obviously they must do it singling one at a time, and this leads to each group trying to one-up the other constantly.” Selleck kept moving Bracken toward the left side of the hall. “Last week the seven Offerings gangbanged one of the War Trophies. He was not happy all covered in semen at the end.”


“And King Adder approves these antics?”


Selleck’s face became serious abruptly. “Our King doesn’t care much for the Kept. He uses them once or twice when they arrive and then forgets about them. After a few years he sends the War Trophies as chiefs of distant out-of-the-way barracks. The Offerings might become ambassadors or administrative officers somewhere. You’re the first actual king he has. I know his father had the King of Doriar, but I’d need to go to the archives to find out what was done with him.” Selleck seemed genuinely apologetic.


Doriar was the southernmost kingdom of the five Land Kingdoms. Bracken remembered that story of the King of Doriar becoming a Kept from when he was a child.


“This is why the Lakon doesn’t have Kept,” Bracken said under his breath, as a glare caught his attention. It was a glittering gold statue of Apheilon, on a pedestal between red columns. Bracken ate the twenty paces swiftly and went to one knee reverently. “Father, bless my people and give wisdom to Idared to guide them until my nephew, Fern, can rule as my successor.” He then recited the old prayers. He stood up when he finished.


“Why don’t you have a son, King Bracken?” Selleck asked, clearly interested.


“I don’t have use for women. I prefer men. The son of my sister Laelia is my heir. Idared, his father, is my first general. His parents will be good regents until Fern is sixteen.”


“King Adder is the same way, but he paid a woman handsomely to carry his child. Of course we had her under lock for a year before he impregnated her just to be sure.” Selleck chuckled.


They had succeeded because the little Boy-Prince was an exact replica of Adder.


“That idea never crossed my mind,” accepted Bracken. “Fern was already three years old when I became King, after my older brother died without any children of his own. It was an instant given.”


“I see. Well, there’s no point now.” Selleck nodded.


“True.”


“I think it is time for you to be introduced to the other Kept.”


“Lead the way.”


As Bracken walked to meet the War Trophies and Offerings, he wondered why Adder wasn’t more active with his Kept. Was he in love with someone? He didn’t have an official consort; it would have been common knowledge around the Ten Kingdoms if there was one.


What about that dog-ass Great Counselor? No. That wasn’t the vibe between them. It was friendship, the kind of friendship Bracken had with his own second-in-command, and now regent for his nephew.


Perhaps King Adder wasn’t a sexual being. No shame on that either.


Yeah, keep telling yourself that lie.


4. GUTS


Adder was nervous, and he couldn’t find a rational explanation as to why. Bracken wasn’t his first Kept. Yes, he was the first king Kept Adder ever had, but… Bracken was more; he was a kindred spirit. Not just because both preferred men; this was intelligence he had received when he became king and learned about the other rulers of the Ten Kingdoms. Perhaps it was that neither of them had been born to be king. The gods had put them in that position without caring if they wanted it or not, and both had succeeded in taking care of their people without becoming ruthless and bitter.


Perhaps it was because both were riders of great flying beasts (his other Kept were from kingdoms without flying riders). They both knew the exhilaration of being in the sky, controlling power beyond human capabilities: men could swim, men could run, but men could not fly. Perhaps it was that he should think this man brutal and perverse and he couldn’t. Still, Adder felt it was something else altogether; he couldn’t name it yet, but it was his intention to find it out. He was not used to unnamed things wreaking havoc within him.


He was pacing around his chamber when a soft knock on the door made him stop. He pulled his tunic down, straightened his crown, and answered, “Come in.”


Selleck opened the door with Bracken in tow. He did a half bow. “My King, here is Bracken the Lakon, Rider of Vultures, King of Lakoneh, as you commanded.”


“Thank you, my friend.”


After another half bow to each, Bracken and Adder, Selleck turned around, opened the door and left, closing it.


Bracken was scowling at Adder. He stood there by the entrance like a statue under a severe rainstorm. Even his fists were clenched, and yet he looked magnificent in his white and gold tunic, plaque belt, and sandals with leather strips up to his knees. The servants had undone his war-braided hair, and it cascaded in salt-peppered curls beyond his shoulders. He seemed a bridegroom on his wedding night.


A very pissed-off groom.


Adder wanted to smile and ask what had happened, but Bracken’s rocky features didn’t invite even a grin. “What’s wrong?”


Bracken was silent and fuming. His eyes were mere slits, and his mouth had a murderous rictus.


If Adder didn’t trust the honor bounding Bracken to be a Kept, he would have drawn his sword instantly. He walked toward the Lakon and pried his fists open. “Please tell me what happened. Did the other Kept do something to you?” He realized his mistake the second he closed his mouth as a growl emerged from Bracken.


“I’m not a fucking weakling.” Bracken pushed Adder. “Yours is the only touch I will permit, and you know the reasons for that.”


Adder pushed back, pinning Bracken against the wall, his forearm over the tanned throat. “Then tell me what the fuck happened and stop acting like a spoiled brat who wanted something and didn’t get it.”


Barely moving his lips, his teeth gritted, Bracken hissed, “Your people have a very wicked sense of what preparation means. I don’t need two men holding me down while another inserts a tube in my ass to clean me for you. I’ve been having sex for eons. I know how not to shit on a man’s cock.”


Without suppressing a snort, Adder let go of Bracken with a warning push to stay where he was. “Are you serious?”


“Dead serious.”


It was hard not to gibe Bracken’s silliness. Adder went with it. “You said mine was the only touch you will permit. I hope I don’t have three unnecessarily dead servants.”


Bracken’s face went blank for two or three heartbeats, then he grumbled, “Dog-son asshole.”


“You’re the anal one here.”


“Stop it.”


“That’s what you said yesterday.”


“Who’s being childish now?”


“Are you going to behave?”


“I promised I would yesterday.”


“All right.” Adder walked to the bed and sat on it, extending a hand to Bracken. “Come.”


Bracken unbuckled his plaque belt and started to pull up his tunic. He didn’t have anything underneath (as was their custom) and the play of muscles was delicious.


“What are you doing?” Adder asked when his brain grasped what was happening.


“I’m behaving. I’m getting naked so you can fuck me and be done with it.”


The false light of the oil lamps made Bracken’s nudity different from that of their previous encounter in bright daylight. The shadows brought angles that enhanced muscles and scars into glorious masculine beauty.


An impressive image, similar to a wild gryphon waiting to pounce at you.


Ha, Adder was Master of Gryphons, and he would master this man no matter what.


Adder sprang from the bed, unbuckling his belt and getting rid of his tunic in one swift movement to end up facing Bracken, chest-to-chest. He grabbed Bracken’s ass and ground their groins together. “You aren’t behaving. You’re practically ordering me to fuck you. That’s not how we play this game.”


Bracken ground back and bit Adder’s chin before saying, “A rigged game is not a real game. You already won, remember?”


Shit.


The bite sent lightning throughout Adder’s body, but it was true; this was a rigged game. Adder couldn’t say differently without sounding like an idiot, or worse— a liar. He brushed Bracken’s lips with his. “Still, let me show you how good I play.”


They didn’t move to the bed, but to an armless chair, where Adder sat with Bracken on his lap; both became lips, and tongues, and limbs, and pulls, and shoves, grappling like two fucking krakens mating. Bracken could say that the game was rigged and that Adder had won already, but he was giving as good as he was taking, and that excited Adder like nothing had in a long time.


“Turn around,” Adder exhaled as he came out of the scuffle for air.


“Yes,” Bracken hissed. As he accommodated himself on Adder’s groin to tease his cock, Adder pushed him forward. Quick reflexes threw arms forward to avoid landing face-first. “What the fuck?” Bracken yelped, craning his neck backward, trying to look at Adder in the awkward position.


Adder had him exactly how he wanted, as if they were in a bizarre wheelbarrow race. He pulled himself upward enough to have Bracken’s round behind in the perfect position and dove between luscious cheeks, inhaling and tasting and biting.


“Oh merciful Erin,” Bracken groaned as his entire body trembled.


Adder saw goose bumps erupting over the hard muscles around his face. Now, with his prey secured, he sat back and continued the assault, using lips and teeth and nose. Bracken babbled incoherently. Curses and blessings came out mixed and strangled. His body writhed, a fine coat of sweat soon covering it.


Rimming was Adder’s favorite part of the bed sports, and by the few things he could grasp from Bracken’s irrational discourse, he was the first to take the time to bestow it upon the Lakon. What a waste of a perfect hole. But it was time for more than rimming. Adder changed weapons, first one and then two fingers. He played Bracken’s prostate like a lyre with slow, knowing motions, bringing sweet moans and grunts (his favorite melodies) out of him.


With his other hand, Adder pumped Bracken’s hard and leaking cock. In perfect harmony, he milked and strummed, rubbed and tugged, pulled and pushed until Bracken climaxed with a rough clamor as if Hate and Pleasure had just had a battle inside him. And they probably had.


Bracken slithered to the floor like melting snow over rock and turned to lie on his back, he pinned Adder with his cloudless-sky eyes. “You.”


Adder winked. “The bed is a better place to come down from ecstasy.” He offered his hand, and Bracken took it without fussing. The midnight blue and silver bedclothes framed Bracken’s strong planes and wild hair beautifully. Then he realized that his bed had been dressed with the colors of Lakoneh. “You are a marvelous sight,” Adder whispered, propping his head on his elbow, both long bodies side by side.


“Thank you.” Bracken nodded. “You’re not bad to look at yourself.”


This made Adder chuckle. He couldn’t resist and touched Bracken’s swollen, smiling lips. Bracken sucked the same fingers that had been inside him. Adder shivered, and it didn’t escape him that Bracken knew the role of those fingers.


“Let me take care of you,” Bracken murmured softly as he released the digits.


“No.” Adder shook his head. “Tonight is about you.”


Bracken didn’t say anything, just stared at Adder, puzzlement softening his sharp, commanding features. They remained like that for many minutes, in quiet silence. The quietness encouraged Adder’s nightjars to call.


“What is that creepy noise?”


“My pets.” Adder laughed. Nightjars were not indigenous to the Ten Kingdoms, but their distinctive call was for some reason soothing to Adder and helped him to sleep.


“It figures you have demon pets.”


“You can be so silly, Lakon. Come, let me show you.”


“You’re going to show me your demons?”


This gave pause to Adder. Yes, perhaps in the future they could show each other their demons and help one another to deal with them. For now it was just the birds. “Yes.” He jumped from the bed. “This way.”


They walked naked to the adjacent room that was lounge and clerical space. The birdcage was practically a room in itself. Bracken moved toward it, resting his hands on the intricate designs of the bars. “What are they called?”


“Nightjars.”


Adder had to admit that the view of Bracken’s powerful back, narrow hips, and muscular legs with nothing but the leather thongs of his sandals (ascending thick calves) was breathtaking. Then he remembered that the previous night, while alone in his bed on the ship, the pattern of Bracken’s war braids had made his hair remind Adder of the plumage of his nightjars.


The legends of the island continent, from whence his little pets had come, spoke of them as familiars to killer spirits and also called them corpse-eaters and goatsuckers. All nonsense, but wasn’t the vulture rider in front of him maligned just like the night birds after what he did to Adder’s ships?


Nothing in Bracken’s previous skirmishes with other kingdoms marked him as a brutal defiler, but the state of the ships when they were returned to Vurgeg left his vassals and the people of Munus revolted. They had clamored for vengeance, and he as a king had to do something to calm his people down.


After a moment of stillness, the nightjars started their song again. Bracken turned around and smiled at Adder. Maybe Bracken didn’t order the things done on those ships. Perhaps it was the men he left in charge, and he wasn’t aware of what happened. The things warring inside Adder, his confusing desire for Bracken and the grotesque idea that he was supposed to have of him, were overwhelming. He felt in his gut (and his gut had never failed him before) that he could trust Bracken’s honor, but it was always wise to keep one’s guard up.


Still, he was going to trust his gut tonight. He walked until his body was flush to Bracken’s and circled the hard flanks. Adder felt Bracken melt into the embrace as he kissed one shoulder and murmured, “Let’s go back to bed, Nightjar.”


Bracken cocked his head sideways toward him and said calmly, “Is that the name you’re giving me?”


“Yes.”


5. CONFUSION


When men became Kept, they were given new names so they understood that their previous life was over. Usually those new names were something inconsequential and meaningless to assert their position in the hierarchy structure and to remind them the King owned what the King named.


Nine days had gone, and no one but Adder called Bracken Nightjar.


And only when we are alone.


Even Selleck still addressed him as King Bracken whenever they interacted. Since Lakoneh didn’t have Kept, Bracken wasn’t sure if there was a timeframe for this to happen or not. Also, he had slept every night beside Adder. The King of Munus did wicked things to Bracken before falling asleep but never fucked him again after The Claiming. Moreover, it had always been about Bracken’s pleasure. He had started to think this was some plot to make him beg to be fucked out of guilt. It didn’t make any sense; it was Adder’s right to possess him. Yet, every motion, every maneuver of any part of him over Bracken’s body was designed to unhinge him, to turn him into a babbling, writhing mass of need until he erupted in shattering orgasms. Then Adder would gently coax him to sleep with soothing murmurs until darkness swallowed him.


Adder.


Always Adder, hard and leaking, but never letting Bracken take care of him. To relieve the need that was clear in Adder’s eyes in the way he devoured Bracken with each glance.


At first Bracken wasn’t happy with this new name, Nightjar. After all, it was the name of a creepy little bird, the kind of tiny thing one could squash with a hand if you used enough pressure. It had seemed like a way to tell Bracken he was just that— a minute, fragile thing.


Nights passed, making Bracken realize that there had to be more to it. Adder took personal care of his nocturnal pets, bringing the insects they ate, talking to them. They were so used to him that they called in his presence when every other person would make them go silent if they got too close to their cage.


These nightly stays were also changing the dynamics within the Kept Hall. The War Trophies started to look at Bracken with suspicion. A very unhealthy dose of ill-disguised jealousy shone clear in their narrowed eyes. Bracken understood this. He was still called King and had surpassed the usual one or two nights of use after arrival. Nobody invited confidences but Bracken was sure Adder simply fucked them and was done with it. This made all the confusion in his head grow bigger and wilder.


On the other hand, the Offerings fluttered around him like he was some kind of hero for retaining Adder’s attentions, which in turn angered the War Trophies even more.


Bracken tried not to dwell on these things as he filled his plate with the dishes laid for their midday meal. He sat alone at one end of the long darkwood table. He had purposely waited until everybody was seated so he could choose a spot far from them. The War Trophies commanded the opposite end, glaring at him between bites and grumbling among themselves. The Offerings had done a number on one of them the previous day. Bracken knew the men at the other end were brewing something nasty; he just couldn’t be sure if it was going to be directed at the kids or at him.


“You’re so lucky, he’s so dreamy,” said Eta as he sat beside Bracken, uninvited.


Bracken had been attracted to men all his life; not even before he became the Warrior King of the Lakonians had he ever used the word “dreamy” to describe another man.


“I would say more like nightmarish.” Bracken chuckled. He liked this kid. All the Offerings were pampered, court-raised lads, but this one had a sharp wit to him that appealed to Bracken’s own caustic sense of humor.


“How could you say that of our king?”


“Thought you were talking about Mu,” Bracken said pointing at the wickedest-looking of all the War Trophies. “You two have your very own special side-war going on.”


Eta snorted, “He’s a beast, but his ass is pretty tight.”


“Tread carefully. These men are not silly things to play with.”


“What are they going to do? They can’t hurt us, we belong to King Adder.”


“You could always have a fatal ‘accident.’ Don’t anger them more than is necessary.”


The kid’s face contorted. “You think they could resort to that?”


“If you push them hard enough, they might. They have nothing to lose. Their lives are already somebody else’s property.”


“You mean our lives.”


“Semantics. I’m on this boat as much as everyone in this hall. I’m just not going to make it harder by creating unneeded enemies.”


Selleck entered the hall and walked straight to them. “May I sit?”


Bracken nodded and eyed Eta, telling him silently, “This is polite behavior.”


Selleck sat placidly.


“Would you like me to fix you a plate?” Eta asked Selleck.


“Thank you, Eta. I already ate.” Selleck looked at Bracken’s plate. It was empty. “If you’re done, King Bracken, please follow me.”


Bracken stood up, winked at Eta and went to wash his hands. Selleck awaited him by the door. They left the Kept, strolling through sunny corridors. They moved toward a part of the palace Bracken didn’t know. Not that he knew much of it; he wasn’t interested either. Soon, they were at the stables, where gryphons were housed. The accommodations were different from the ones the Lakonian had for their vultures, but more similar to the ones they had built for their creations the vulhurs, an alchemy-marriage of horse and vulture.


Selleck stopped them in front of several enclosures and waved his hand as a merchant offering his goodies. “King Adder wants you to choose a gryphon for your personal use.”


“What?”


“He told me you haven’t ridden a gryphon, but I don’t think they are that different from a vulture, riding-wise.”


“Does any of the other Kept have their own gryphon?” Bracken didn’t want a gryphon; he was still mourning the loss of Silvercall. He had been training a vulhur as a secondary mount, but a gryphon was out of the question.


“No, King Bracken. Only you would have one.”


“Is this an order?”


Puzzlement was written all over the red-haired man. “I-I don’t think it was. It’s a gift,” he stuttered.


It was in bad taste to refuse a gift, but this would cause more trouble than Bracken needed. He would have to say yes now and speak to Adder about it in the first opportunity. “I just wanted to be sure,” he offered nonchalantly. “Any of these?” They were facing five gryphons in various colors.


“Yes. These are trained but don’t have a master yet, so any could adapt to you easily.”


Bracken went for the darkest one instead of the one that resembled Silvercall the most. That way if he ended up stuck with the beast it would not be a constant reminder of what he’d lost.


Many hours later, Bracken returned to the Kept Hall, exhilarated and not liking himself much. He had such a great time learning to ride “his” gryphon, he felt ashamed and beyond guilty.


“Hey, Lakon, changing colors? Now that the Master of Gryphons has been riding you, you think it is cute to forget your vulture. You disgust me,” yelled Rho from their usual end of the table, waving a chicken leg at Bracken. The other War Trophies cackled as if the idiot had just delivered the punch line of a joke instead of an insult.


Making his way to the smorgasbord, Bracken kept a straight face. He filled his plate and sat at the head of the opposite end, not in a side of the end as usual. He started eating, his eyes unyielding over the War Trophies.


The seven Offerings moved from the middle of the table and surrounded Bracken. At his left Eta spoke, “Aren’t you going to say anything, King Bracken?”


“One does not answer to the bark of dogs, especially if they are behind a fence.”


“Nice,” said Xi at Bracken’s right. The other Offerings snorted and guffawed happily.


Bracken’s end of the table finished their meal in animated conversation, while the other end seemed the gathering of a storm with many growls for thunder. They were given the concoction that slowed their bowel movements to a minimum for twelve hours. Then, they went with assistants to be prepared for the King’s selection of the night. This was done to all of them because it was unknown who the King would choose until Selleck appeared at the door. Bracken had heard the War Trophies complaining about it. The King never summoned anyone, and they were submitted to this handling unnecessarily. He also heard that now that Adder sent for Bracken every night he should be the only one going through the process.


Adder had given Selleck instructions to let Bracken do his preparations on his own after the childish fit he had thrown the first night. Bracken wasn’t proud of his reaction, but being caught unawares had been the part that pissed him off the most.


Bracken prepared himself silently under the vigilant gaze of the servants that weren’t touching him but needed to be there to assure that he didn’t cheat; if Bracken did a number on the King because they weren’t paying attention that would be all for them. Or so they thought.


When all the Kept were ready, they lounged amid colorful pillows and rugs, listening to the entertainment of the evening. The musicians from Doriar were still a bit rattled by the flight to Gryphonire but quickly composed themselves. The Kept were not permitted to drink spirits until after one had been chosen for the night. The rest could get drunk and do whatever they wanted, even indulge in sexual activities among themselves. If this happened (Bracken couldn’t be sure; he had never stayed for the night with the rest), he was sure the two bands never intermingled sexually, unless it was some kind of prank on each other.


Unsure if Adder was going to summon him tonight, Bracken couldn’t appreciate the antics of the Offerings as they danced and pranced with the music. This time he was truly hoping to be called so he could talk to Adder about the gryphon.


Yes. Keep telling yourself it’s because of the gift.


Sometimes Bracken hated his consciousness vehemently. Did he want to think about the soft caresses and the languid kisses and Adder’s mouth on his cock? No. He didn’t. But no other lover had ever taken the time to pleasure Bracken beyond penetration and using Bracken to find their pleasure. He could count with his fingers (without using all) the few that had sucked his cock in the middle of the fracas.


The thing was, after Bracken’s arrival at Gryphonire, Adder had shown him a side of pleasure he didn’t know existed.


Disconcerting couldn’t begin to describe the actions of the King of Munus.


Beyond the usual time for Selleck’s appearance, the Kept grumbled and paced because they wanted their drinks. Bracken ruminated and worried, thinking he had served his purpose; he surmised the gryphon was some ridiculous parting gift.


Another hour passed before Selleck entered the Kept Hall with a wicked gleam in his eyes. He stopped before them, his hands behind his back and balancing on the balls of his feet. “Good evening, Kept. The King has summoned… Eta.”


Twelve men looked at Bracken, all surprised for an instant. Then, the expressions changed according to the group. The Offerings were confused but soon enough started to elbow Eta, who stared at Bracken with a big apology in his green eyes. The War Trophies smirked and elbowed each other for a completely different reason. “About time, we were parched here,” said Mu throwing his arms around Nu and Rho, arching an eyebrow in Bracken’s direction.


Bracken didn’t say anything, just kept his face blank. He’d find another way to talk to Adder. This wasn’t the end of the world.


Selleck cleared his throat. “The King also wants to see King Bracken.”


6. UNFORGIVABLE


“Oh, Nightjar, you can be so silly.”


They were in bed. Adder had his leg over Nightjar’s groin and his head propped on his elbow.


“What else should I have thought?”


“I promise I’ll never force you to do anything you don’t agree with.” Adder smiled.


“It didn’t seem like you were giving Eta an option.”


“He could have said no.”


“I know Renan is your best friend and Great Counselor. But letting Eta go with him doesn’t feel right.”


“Today is Renan’s birthday, and I asked him what he wanted. He said Eta. I told him if Eta refused there was nothing I could do about it.”


“And if he had requested me?”


Adder didn’t need to think about his response twice. “I would have punched him in the face.”


Nightjar grimaced. “A simple ‘no’ would have been sufficient.”


“Not for me. Renan should know better.”


“Does he know something I don’t?”


“Did you like your gift?” Adder changed the topic unabashedly. There were a lot of things he still couldn’t answer to himself, let alone to Nightjar. Renan had told him to be careful around Nightjar, but the more Adder tried to avoid getting attached to the vulture rider the more he failed.


With narrowed eyes, Nightjar murmured, “I appreciate it, but I don’t want it.”


“Why not?” Adder kissed his Nightjar softly. “Selleck and the trainer said you had a great time learning to ride it.”


“That I did. But you are singling me out. It will fester in the Kept Hall.”


“There’s no reason for that. None of them was a flying rider. Rho was a narwhal rider from Gikid and Nu a rider of orcas from Busar. The others are from land kingdoms so I guess they can ride horses and the big felines.”


“They can learn,” Nightjar huffed.


“Don’t be absurd. Flying riders are born, not taught, and you know that.”


Nightjar nodded, but he seemed unconvinced.


“Don’t worry about it,” Adder said quietly, caressing Nightjar’s cheek. “The day after tomorrow we’ll go for a ride together.”



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