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.I spoke out of turn.’ Grittily.Laurent said, ‘If this is a fabrication—if I find you have been moonlighting with emissaries from my uncle—’‘I haven’t,’ said Damen.The guard took a little longer to rouse than Radel, who presumably never slept, but they arrived reasonably promptly.Dressed in livery and looking alert, rather than, as might be expected, yawning and trailing bed linen.‘I want to know who spoke with the slave the night you watched over him in the gardens,’ said Laurent.‘Nicaise and Vannes I know about.’‘That was it,’ came the answer.‘There was no other.’ And then, as Damen felt a sick sensation in his stomach: ‘No.Wait.’‘Oh?’‘After you left,’ the guard said, ‘he got a visit from Govart.’Laurent turned back to Damen, blue eyes like ice.‘No,’ said Damen, knowing Laurent believed this now to be some scheme of his uncle’s.‘It’s not what you think.’But it was too late.‘Shut him up,’ said Laurent.‘Try not to leave any new marks.He’s caused enough trouble for me as it is.’CHAPTER 7SEEING NO REASON whatsoever to cooperate with that order, Damen stood up.It had an interesting effect on the guard who brought up short and swung his gaze back to Laurent, seeking further guidance.Radel was also in the room, and at the door stood the two guards who were on watch.Laurent narrowed his eyes at the problem, but offered no immediate solution.Damen said, ‘You could bring in more men.’Behind him were strewn the cushions and rumpled silk sheets, and trailing across the floor was the single chain linked to his wrist-cuff that was no impediment to movement at all.‘You are really courting danger tonight,’ Laurent said.‘Am I? I thought I was appealing to your better nature.Order whatever punishment you like, from the coward’s distance of a chain-length.You and Govart are two of a kind.’It was not Laurent but the guard who reacted, steel flashing out of the sheath.‘Watch your mouth.’He was wearing livery, not armour.The threat was negligible.Damen looked at his drawn sword with scorn.‘You’re no better.You saw what Govart was doing.You did nothing to stop him.’Laurent raised a hand, halting the guard before he could take another angry step forward.‘What was it he was doing?’ said Laurent.The guard stepped back, then shrugged.‘Raping one of the slaves.’There was a pause, but if Laurent had any reaction to these words, it didn’t show on his face.Laurent transferred his gaze back to Damen and said, pleasantly, ‘Does that bother you? I recall you being free with your own hands, not so very long ago.’‘That was—’ Damen flushed.He wanted to deny that he’d done anything of the kind, but he remembered rather unequivocally that he had.‘I promise you, Govart did a great deal more than simply enjoy the view.’‘To a slave,’ Laurent said.‘The Prince’s Guard doesn’t interfere with the Regency.Govart can stick his cock into anything of my uncle’s he likes.’Damen made a sound of disgust.‘With your blessing?’‘Why not?’ said Laurent.His voice was honeyed.‘He certainly had my blessing to fuck you, but it turned out he’d rather take a blow to the head.Disappointing, but I can’t fault his taste.Then again, maybe if you’d spread in the ring, Govart wouldn’t have been so hot to get inside your friend.’Damen said, ‘This isn’t a scheme of your uncle’s.I don’t take orders from men like Govart.You’re wrong.’‘Wrong,’ said Laurent.‘How lucky I am to have servants to point out my shortcomings.What makes you think I will tolerate any of this, even if I believed what you are saying to be true?’‘Because you can end this conversation any time you like.’With so much at stake, Damen was sick of certain kinds of exchanges; the kind Laurent favoured, and enjoyed, and was good at.Wordplay for its own sake; words that built traps.None of it meant anything.‘You’re right.I can.Leave us,’ Laurent said.He was gazing at Damen while he said it, but it was Radel and the guards who bowed and went out.‘Very well.Let us play this out.You’re concerned for the wellbeing of the other slaves? Why hand me that kind of advantage?’‘Advantage?’ said Damen.‘When someone doesn’t like you very much, it isn’t a good idea to let them know that you care about something,’ said Laurent.Damen felt himself turn ashen, as the threat sank in.‘Would it hurt worse than a lashing for me to cut down someone you care for?’ said Laurent.Damen was silent.Why do you hate us so much? he almost said, except that he knew the answer to that question.‘I don’t think I need to bring in more men,’ said Laurent.‘I think all I have to do is tell you to kneel, and you’ll do it.Without me lifting a finger to help anyone.’‘You’re right,’ said Damen.‘I can end this any time I like?’ said Laurent.‘I haven’t even begun.’‘The Prince’s orders,’ Damen was told the next day, stripped and re-dressed, and when he asked what these preparations were for, he was told that tonight he would serve the Prince at the high table.Radel, clearly disapproving of the fact that Damen was being taken into refined company, delivered a peripatetic lecture, striding up and down in Damen’s room.Few pets were invited to serve their masters at the high table.To offer him this opportunity, the Prince must see something in Damen that surpassed Radel’s understanding.It was pointless to instruct someone like Damen in the rudiments of polite etiquette, but he should try to keep silent, obey the Prince and refrain from attacking or molesting anyone.In Damen’s experience, being taken out of his rooms at Laurent’s request did not end well.His three excursions had comprised the ring, the gardens and the baths, with a subsequent trip to the flogging post.His back was by now mostly healed, but that was of no consequence; the next time Laurent struck out, it would not be directly at him.Damen had very little power, but there was a crack that ran right down the middle of this court.If Laurent would not be persuaded, Damen must turn his attention to the Regent’s faction.Out of habit, he observed the security outside of his room.They were on the second floor of the palace, and the passage they walked along had a number of windows fretted by grilles, looking out on an uninviting sheer drop [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]