Ewan cried out as the metal blade struck his temple. He collapsed to the deck, the chains preventing him from catching himself. The other prisoners watched on in silence, they were shackled together in ranks of five, kneeling on the deck. The boat was headed to their enemy’s capital, Ion, with its load of chattel. The war was over, they had lost.
Leaving the boat, each group was marched down the dock. The only people they passed were soldiers. Down long empty streets they marched with the soldiers goading them on with harsh commands and lashes when they no longer could respond to the fear of punishment. Cresting a hill they got their first view of the palace and town. Cool grey stone walls and red pottery roofs stretched as far as they could see. The only way you could distinguish the palace from the town was that its walls stretched above the town, casting several streets into shadow.
The wind brought the sound of a busy market and the smell of many foods being cooked. His stomach growled but he ignored it, just as he ignored the blood staining his face and neck. They would be branded traitors if they managed to escape and tried to return home. There was no home any more, no hope of escape, only the daily march and the collapse into dreamless sleep each night.
They were marched into a large courtyard. When a group was moved, they did not return. This was their destination. Only a few guards spoke their language and they barked out orders, ignoring questions or protests. His group was chosen and they were marched into another room, a bath house, where they were unchained, stripped and given soap and brushes. Ducking into a stream of water that poured from the walls they scrubbed their skin till it was raw, washing off the stink of fear and captivity. When they emerged they were given towels and clothes to change into. Once everyone was done they were chained again and marched deep into the building, they stopped at a seeming random line of doors. One by one they were unchained and pushed into a room, the door locked behind them.
The room was a small cell. A low cot filled one wall with a small table and chair at the other with a barred window set near the ceiling. The door opened again and he was handed a bowl of stew with a wooden spoon and slice of bread. Sitting on the bed he slowly ate, it was good stew. He was continually surprised by their captors. They were kept chained but never badly treated. They got three meals a day, beds to sleep on; blankets were provided when asked for. There had been beatings but only for those who tried to fight or escape, the rest of the prisoners were left unmolested. The blow her received was for resisting being added to a new group. His last group had been broken up when an old man in the middle died in his sleep.
The selection of the people was strange too, there were no women, only men, young and old were chained and put on the boats. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the selection, none of the men were soldiers, only poor merchants and a handful of young apprentices. They were pulled from their shops and homes and marched to the sea. Some of the men wept for their families and loved ones they had left; he was one of the lucky ones in that regard. He had no one to miss. His life had been his work. That he missed, his hands ached to hold a charcoal stick and draw. He felt incomplete without ink and charcoal staining his fingers.
The streets and houses here were straight and uniform. It made him miss his town all the more, the bright yellow and blues of the walls, the curved doorways and winding streets. He was an architect, not a warrior. When the call came for the soldiers to go to war he had stayed to continue to build. He built the walls meant to keep out the attackers and helped repair the war-torn homes that now had no men to do so. Then they were called to the central market to hear news of the war. The enemy soldiers were there. The town leader had announced that the war was over, they had lost. Everyone was to go back to their homes and do as they were told. People that fought or harassed the soldiers would be killed. If you accepted the new rule and continued to live peacefully then you would not be harmed.
Of course there were people who refused and they had been captured and killed. Their bodies were returned to their families to be buried in the local religion. They thought that was the end of it until the troops arrived. Then the march began.
Once every three days they were taken to the baths, beyond this they were left alone in their cells, the only interruption the three daily meals. On the fourth bath day, one of the others approached him.
“They are taking people to work. They say that if you work for them they will let you have a normal life and live in the city. What do you think?”
“I would go. I left a good shop and home but that can be remade in a new town.”
“I have grandchildren that I want to see grow up in Baric. If I live here I might never see them again.”
“Then tell them that. Maybe they will let you go home.” He said turning away and grabbing a towel and fresh set of clothes. Drying off and dressing quickly he asked to be taken back to his cell.
The next day he was brought to an audience chamber. A platform to one side held a wooden throne with a young man seated and watching him. Several armed guards lined the walls. He was unshackled and left pushed to a knee in front of the man. A scribe sat to one side taking notes.
“Your name.” the man asked, he was golden skinned and muscular.
“Ewan Main.” He said, his voice was rough, how long had it been since he spoke to anyone?
“Your profession, Ewan?” he asked. He wore simple leather boots and laced breeches and shirt made of cotton. The only emblem of rank that marked him was a thick gold band that wrapped his throat. The soldiers and guards wore a similar one of copper or silver. Dark copper curls crowned his head, while dark blue eyes watched every move the man made, noted and analyzed him.
“I am an architect. I build houses, walls, buildings.” He said clearing his throat. His knees ached where they pressed into the stone. The rough grey tunics and pants they had been given itched his sides where sweat trickled its way down his back to stain the linen a darker grey.
“We are looking for skilled craftsmen. That is why you were brought here. I want to make my capital as strong in culture as it is in war. If you stay you will be helping teach my workers and other craftsmen the ways of your people. You will be paid for your work and be given a place to live and work in town. The only price you must pay for this offer is continuing to stay here and becoming one of my subjects. If you refuse you will be banished from the land, which now includes your homeland. You will be taken to the border and released, never to return.”
“May I ask a question, sire?” he said hesitantly, the man seemed reasonable but the stories about his tactics and the horrors his soldiers subjected their people to could still be true, no matter how nicely they had been treated so far.
“How long are we being given to decide?”
“You have three days, then you will be called forth to start your journey, be it one of training or travel. Go now and think on what I have offered.”
“Yes, sire.” He murmured.
Standing, he followed the guard back to his cell. They did not bother to shackle him. He had nowhere else to go.
Three days later he was again brought before the king. He had questioned another of the prisoners the day before in the baths. This was King Ion, whose capital bore his name. The stories of his cruelty and the raping and pillaging of his troops filled his mind as he walked. Yet, there had been no raping or pillaging of his home. Those that fought were killed but the bodies were treated with respect and the citizens were not taxed harshly or attacked by the soldiers stationed there. It made no sense. But sensible or not, he had made his choice.
“So Ewan, have you made your choice or do you have more questions?”
“I have questions, sire, but I have made my choice regardless of the answers.” This seemed to amuse and surprise the King.
“Then ask your questions.” He said with a smile, “Once you have asked all you wish, we will hear your answer.”
“My only question is to ask why when all the stories call you a cruel heartless king who controls an army of barbarians have you shown us such mercy?”
“The atrocities you speak of happened during my Uncle’s rule while I was a child. I have done my best to ensure that these actions are not continued in my reign. I do conquer other people, as you know, but I try to do so fairly. The people will become citizens and pay taxes to the kingdom but they will also have the use of my soldiers should they ever be attacked. They will not be set to the blade unless they decide to defy me. My soldiers know they will face a life of pain and agony if they treat their charges unfairly. It took many such examples before they learned,” the King added, gazing at the troops in the room with a stern eye, “but they have learned and no longer will such barbaric actions be tolerated. Does this answer your question?”
“Yes, sire, thank you.”
“Have you any other questions?”
“Then what is your answer.”
“I will stay and work for you, sire.” The king watched him for a moment before standing and walking to the window on the outer wall of the chamber.
“So calm and distant, most of the men we have brought here have refused my offer. They wish to go back to their families and homes. Why do you not wish too?”
“I have no family and one home is as good as another. If you are offering work then that is all I have ever required.”
“Hmmm…”The king looked him up and down. He was a well-formed man, not as tall as the king but not too thin or too fat. His arms and chest were defined and he could see a tuft of dark hair where the front of his tunic was not laced completely. His olive complexion and dark eyes were common for his people; it was his calm expression that set him apart. He appeared made of stone, that nothing would waver him. The scars were in direct opposition of this. Thin whip marks covered his arms and showed on the back of his neck and chest that could be seen. The scars were old and faded but severe enough to still be seen after what had to be ten years or more of life.
“The scars you bare, when did you receive them and why?” the king asked, “Where you a thief in your youth?”
“My father was not a gentle man, sire.” Ewan said in a clipped voice, biting out the words. “I have never stolen anything in my life.”
“I apologize, Ewan, but surely you can see why I must ask.”
“You will be shown to your new quarters here in the palace and will start work in the morning. A guard will be along to escort you.”
“Thank you, sire.” He said, giving a small bow.
The rooms he was shown to were opulent compared to the bare cell he had been staying in. He had a fair-sized bed, bathroom and a wardrobe full of simple clothes. Except for the lack of tools, it was more than he had ever owned in his last home.
He even had a window that was open to the sea breeze. Before this journey he had never seen the sea before, his was an inland town near the mountains. They had been carpenters and farmers, not soldiers. It was easy to see why the country fell so quickly. They stood no chance against King Ion’s soldiers and war machines.
The next morning he was collected and taken to a communal hall where other workers were eating breakfast. When his guide and he finished, he was lead to a workshop. He was introduced to the other architects and left to observe their work. As the days passed, this was his routine, eat, sleep and work. Each day he made his way to the hall for all his meals and back to his room to sleep. He began designing everything from houses to aqueducts, pleasure gardens to granaries. He took a perverse pleasure in adding arches where ever he could. The head architect despised arches. The arch was a central piece in Baric design and culture, every house, market and temple had arches in the structure.
Before he realized it time had passed and he had been there for several months. He entered the workroom that morning to freeze just inside the door. King Ion stood at the main work table going through the designs with the head Architect standing to one side, explaining various points. He moved quickly to stand with the other architects against one wall.
“Ewan, come explain this design to me. Why did you do this?” the king said, gesturing him forward. He quickly stepped forward and began explaining his rational. He was forced to defend or explain most of the designs he was working on. The King offered no feedback, just continuing to each design and continuing the questioning. Once he finished with the last one, he turned to face the head Architect.
“I do not agree with your assessments. Master Alum, you will be moved to another workshop in the city. Perhaps a year of designing roads and surveying will improve your appreciation to new ideas.” With a gesture he dismissed the sputtering man, which the guards quickly guided out of the room. “Master Jared, you have incorporated many of the new elements we are seeing from our Baric friends and other cultures. You are now the Head Architect. I want to begin work on the palace gardens, the new grain silos and storage, and the new cloth merchants building. You will receive the paperwork and approvals later today. Architect Ewan Main is to assist you. I want him to learn more of how our builders work. Good work, sirs.”
Turning, the King left the work room without another word. The other architects were quick to congratulate the two of them. Jared turned to Ewan, “I look forward to working with you, Ewan. You did well there, defending your work. Master Alum had spent the last hour tearing each of your designs apart. The man is an idiot, we are all glad to be rid of him.” The rest of the men rumbled their agreement. After that day their work load tripled but the others began to include him more in their conversations and sometimes they would invite him out for a drink. He went a few times but was not one for drinking.
He mainly went to see more of the city. For all its regimented layout and sharp angles it was a beautiful place. His first time at a pleasure house had been a shock as well. It was shocking to see women dressed in sheer silks and flowing hair cuddle against the men and feed them tidbits while they watched some entertainment or musicians or dancers. Even more shocking were the men at the pleasure houses. It was frowned upon in Baric for two men to be lovers but here it was common to see two men embrace or kiss in public or two women. As long as both were happy and consented to support the other than they were allowed to live together in peace. If they wanted children, one woman could pay to have a man service her and they would keep the child. If two men wanted children they simply adopted one who was orphaned or contracted with a woman for her to bear one of their children.
He did not know what to do. He had never found women to be particularly attractive. He had dallied with his share while growing up but did not have the drive for it as some men did. The pleasure house men haunted his dreams. Golden skinned and muscular they lay about barely clothed, but for a small loin cloth. Hair in long tresses like a woman or clipped short as was the custom; they wore dark makeup rimming their eyes, or oils highlighting their supple skin and muscles.
He woke from vague dreams of skin and sensation each night gasping for air, his erection tenting his sheets. He took to walking the build sites each evening till his legs felt like lead. He worked late hours, pushing himself till he slept the deep oblivion of the exhausted. Still, the dreams would not leave him. He woke at least once a week crying out his release into an imagined lover’s mouth. The other architects chided him for working too hard, pushing him to join them when they went drinking but he did not trust himself to watch those flexible men tumble and wrestle against each other as was the current favorite entertainment.
At the same time the King was demanding more of his time. He spent hours walking the build sites with the architects discussing improvements to the rest of the palace. He seemed determined to pull Ewan forward. He called for him different days of the week and they sat discussing various cultures and designs that the King favored and wanted to see drawn up. Ewan had never been more productive. He was studying book after book about different cultures and areas and learning so much about the world. He had never imagined it would be so varied and large.
At one such summoning, he was brought to the King’s chambers. Just as he was approaching the door down the long corridor that lead to it, another was walking toward him. A girl with tears tracking her face clutched a ripped robe to herself with bruised arms. She never looked up as they passed by each other.
The King was in a very good mood that day, joking and drinking wine as they discussed the new library he wanted built. Ewan managed to contain his curiosity till just before he left, the king was well on his way to being drunk and it was late. As he stood to leave, the words seemed to leave his mouth of their own accord.
“Sire, may I ask you, what was wrong with the girl I passed in the hall? She came from your rooms did she not?” he could feel his skin heating as he stared at the ground. Why had he said that?
“Yes, she is one of the pleasure girls here at the palace. Sadly, she was not happy to please me, few are.” The king said, swirling his wine, before finishing off the glass. “I am not as gentle as I seem, Ewan. I have curbed my Uncle’s soldiers with a hard hand, by brutal beatings and lashings done by the King’s own hand in front of entire armies.” He said refilling his glass with wine the color of blood. “I learned as a child to watch in delight at the sight of a man or woman’s blood. My Uncle taught me in all things, even in how to love. Love for me is pain and blood. She did not appreciate pain as I have been taught to appreciate it.”
“I am sorry if I have offended you, Sire.” Ewan murmured, taking a step back to leave.
“You have not, no, Ewan, stay. You have started this conversation so you must stay for the rest of it. Do you attend the pleasure houses or are you against them as some of your countrymen are?”
Taking his seat on the cushions across from the king, he swallowed. “I have been with the other architects, Sire. “He swallowed thickly, “I am not entirely comfortable there and have only been a handful of times.”
“You have been here nearly half a year, Ewan. Have you not purchased a pleasure night yourself?”
“No Sire, I have never been one to seek pleasure that way. I was always happy with my home and work.”
“You say was, are you no longer happy with just that?” He can feel his cheeks radiating heat. This was too much.
“Sire…” he choked. “I am unused to how open relationships are here.”
“Ah, you mean how a man can have any lover he chooses, man or woman, and that women can do the same.”
“Which do you prefer?”
“I have only ever been with women Sire.”
“But you yourself said you have never had a need for pleasure…pleasure with women, I take it?”
“Yes, Sire.” He murmured. A motion drew his eyes from his lap only to meet those of the King, inches from his own face.
“That will be something we may have to rectify.” The king murmured, stoking the other man’s cheek. He slid forward pressing the other man back into the pillows. Grasping the back of his head he kissed him harshly, letting his weight pin the frozen man, thrusting his hips so he could feel his erection dig into his hip. “But not tonight, I have had too much to drink and you are too afraid. Go play in the pleasure houses, Ewan. “ he murmured stoking a hand down Ewan’s chest, relishing the gasp it pulled from his lips as he palmed the other man’s hard length. “So frustrated.” He whispered, stroking through the cloth. “That we can deal with now, I think.” The king said, thrusting his hand into Ewan’s pants he grasped his hot cock and began pumping it. Ewan’s body bowed at the sensation.
“My King!” he gasped. Struggling to breathe, he raised a hand to push him away only to have his hand caught and pressed into the pillows above his head. The stoking hand went painfully tight wrenching against him.
“Consider this an order, lie still.” The king hissed, releasing his wrist he leaned in and captured Ewan’s lips again, biting hard with teeth, kissing roughly till teeth clicked and lips bleed, quickening the pace of his hand. Ewan moaned as the King’s sword calluses rubbed up and down his length. The king took advantage and thrust his tongue into Ewan’s mouth, thrusting his hips in time with his hand, he ground his own erection into the side of Ewan’s hip. It was all too much after so long without, with a cry, Ewan came with a horse cry, spurting his seed across the King’s hand. King Ion attacked his neck biting hard as he rubbed the seed across Ewan’s belly and aching member as he thrust out his own climax. The King gave him one final bruising kiss before releasing him. Standing the Ion went back to his own cushion, fixing his hair and clothes as he went. Taking back up he watched the shattered man before him slowly come back to his senses.
“Go and enjoy yourself, Ewan. Send a page in when you leave.” he said intent on filling his goblet again.
“Yes, Sire.” Ewan managed, hastily fixing his clothes, he all but ran from the room. Going straight to the showers he stripped and scrubbed the smell of sex from his skin. Pulling on a tunic he made his way toward his bed, only to stop and head for the small mirror that was framed against one wall. A teeth shaped bruise marked his neck for all to see.
- King Ion learned to see pain as pleasure at his Uncle’s knee. Punishment in the bedroom, has scarred the girls who he plays with.
- “I learned to love the sting and warmth of the whip on my skin long before I was ever given one to wield.”