quasar273: (yuletide)
[personal profile] quasar273
Fandom: Martha Wells: The Fall of Ile-Rien
Title: The First Time is the Hardest
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~8400
Warnings: het, non-con, scary stuff
Summary: Ilias and Giliead had to do things for the first time, and learn from their mistakes.

A/N: Written for [livejournal.com profile] marycrawford for the Yuletide rare fandom secret Santa project. This was a pinch hit I picked up on December 17.

Ilias pushed himself up on an elbow as he heard the door creak. "Gil?" He glanced toward the window; still dark. "What time is it?"

"Don't know." Giliead shucked his outer clothes, lifted the blankets, and curled toward his foster-brother's warmth although the night was only cool. "Late. Go back to sleep."

Ilias turned up onto his side and tried to make out Giliead's features in the dim light. They probably wouldn't have told him much even if he could see; Gil was hard to read sometimes. You had to know what he was thinking about already, and this time Ilias wasn't quite sure. "Who did you go with?"

There had been a couple of young women showing interest in Giliead at the Harvest Eve celebration; Ilias had stayed out of the way so Giliead could have a free hand. It was past time the girls paid attention to Gil, who was turning into a handsome young man, strong and faithful and everything that was good. But apparently most of them were put off because Giliead was their god's Chosen Vessel. And that was silly; Chosen Vessels couldn't marry, but no one their age was ready to marry yet anyway. There was no reason Giliead couldn't enjoy a good tumble.

Ilias had tumbled with his brother on occasion, but that was just play-sex, boys learning about their bodies. He wondered sometimes if Giliead took it more seriously than that, but he wasn't sure how to ask.

And Gil still hadn't answered the question.

"Was it Cienalla?" Ilias pressed. "She's nice. Fun to be with." He'd been sort of rooting for Cienalla, except that he'd gotten a funny feeling watching her joke and flirt with Giliead. It couldn't be jealousy, since he'd only been with Cienalla once and that was months ago and he hardly ever saw her anyway. But it almost felt like jealousy. That was when Ilias had decided he'd better clear out so he didn't ruin Giliead's chances somehow.

Giliead just grunted and turned onto his side, presenting Ilias with his back.

"Fine, don't tell me. You know I'll find out tomorrow anyway."

Giliead sighed. "It was Visolela."

"Oh." Ilias didn't like Visolela much, but he didn't know her well, either. She was very beautiful, but he wouldn't choose her for a first time. "Was it good?"

"Yeah. Wonderful," Giliead mumbled into the bed.

Ilias leaned closer. "You don't sound like it was good."

Giliead slumped to his back and stared up at the ceiling. "It felt great, but it was too fast. I don't think it was very good for her."

"First times are usually pretty fast. She had to be expecting that." Ilias frowned when there was no reply. "Really. Even later, when you get used to how good it feels and learn to slow down, it's still awkward with a new partner. Visolela has to know that."

"She didn't seem to . . . I think she was expecting something more."

"Did she ask for something else?"

"No . . ."

"What did she say, then?"

Giliead's eyes squeezed closed. "It's not important."

Bitch, Ilias thought angrily. "If she doesn't tell you what she wants, she shouldn't blame you for not giving it to her."

Giliead just lay still, eyes closed, breathing slowly and evenly.

Ilias bumped him on the shoulder. "Look, you can practice with me anytime. Learn to hold off a little, keep it from ending too soon. And next time, try Cienalla."

"Cienalla's afraid of me."

"No, she's not, she's just . . ." Ilias sighed. He knew being a Chosen Vessel was a great responsibility, but he wished people wouldn't treat Giliead as if it made him some kind of freak. Sometimes they acted almost as if Giliead was a curseling, instead of being invulnerable to most wizards' curses thanks to the god's protection. "All right, try Darinna, then. She's nice too."

"Darinna sleeps with everyone."

"So why should you be an exception?" Ilias joked. "You think you're special or something?"

Everyone knew Giliead was special.

"Come on," Ilias urged. "You want to practice now?" His body had reacted predictably to the topic of conversation and was ready to go. He nudged Giliead's hip hopefully.

"Not now. I'm tired." Giliead rolled away.

With a sigh, Ilias squirmed back to his own side of the bed and took care of the matter himself.

Ilias went out with a fishing boat the next day due to a complicated labor trade his foster-mother Karima had made in return for help with their own harvest. It was chilly and wet, but this time of year the fishers only went out for a few hours at a time, so it wasn't too bad. Karima had sat down with him a few years ago and discussed how she wanted to make sure he was learning plenty of skills that could come in useful later on -- not just so that he would fetch a good price in marriage (though he knew that was important, since Giliead couldn't marry and that made him the family's best chance to earn a good marriage-price), but so that he would have as many choices in his life as possible. Ilias was positive he wanted to be a warrior, but Karima insisted he needed to know other things for when he retired from that.

Ilias supposed he probably would make a profitable marriage someday, since the girls giggled over his looks and warriors were always popular. Karima wouldn't force him into an unpleasant alliance; she would probably even try to get him a place as first husband, or at least something in a wealthy household with an understanding wife. But that was still years away, and it was hard for Ilias to picture himself in that role. He'd be the male head of a household, possibly jostling for status with other husbands or other men in the extended family -- and eventually a father. It made him feel strange to think about it. For now he was happy to be one of two sons in a small household.

When he got back to the Andrien house, he found Giliead in the kitchen arguing with his parents -- which was unusual -- while his sister Irisa looked on with an unhappy frown. They all shut up and looked away as Ilias entered the room.

"What's going on?" he asked, setting his portion of the day's catch on the table and pulling a chair close to the stove as he stripped off his wet overtunic.

"There's a wizard," said Giliead shortly.

Ilias went still, his heart speeding. "Where?"

"Near Sardon, about two days' ride inland."

Ilias breathed. So no one was directly threatening them. "There was a messenger?" he asked.

Giliead shook his head. "The god showed me."

"You see?" said Karima sharply. "If you're young enough that the god can still speak to you so easily, you're too young to be hunting wizards yet."

Giliead's father Ranior grimaced, but said nothing.

"If it's two days away," said Ilias slowly, "isn't there someone else who could go?"

"Our god is the nearest," Giliead said. "And it showed me. That means it's my responsibility."

"Menander --" Ilias began, naming the Chosen Vessel from the Uplands, who had been helping to protect this area ever since Giliead was Chosen as a boy of eight seasons, too young to do the job.

Ranior shook his head. "Still recovering from his injuries from that last wizard he fought."

That had been a bad business, last year -- an entrenched wizard clever enough to slip past the notice of local gods for a few years. A lot of people had been cursed to death or madness, bringing him down. Giliead had been alternately furious and despairing for weeks afterward, though he tried to conceal it just because that was how he was.

"And that one should have been my responsibility, too," said Giliead. "I'm old enough, Mother. It's time."

Karima's face showed lines in places where they weren't supposed to be. She turned away sharply and addressed her daughter. "Irisa, have you started the dinner yet?"

"The fish just arrived," she protested.

"Well, start cleaning them, then!" Karima demonstrated by pulling one of the larger fish over to the chopping block and severing its head with a thump that made everyone flinch.

Ilias turned to Giliead. "When are we leaving?"

"What?!" Karima turned from the fish.

"You're not coming with me," said Giliead.

Ilias crossed his arms and glared. "You're not going alone."

"This is my job. The god chose me, not the whole family."

"We talked about this, Gil!" Ilias had joined in as much of Giliead's training as he was allowed. They had learned to fight together, with and without weapons. They had studied strategy and the tales of past Chosen Vessels and the different kinds of curses wizards might send at them. "You might be protected against most curses, but you can still be killed!" That was what happened to most Chosen Vessels, at an earlier age than anyone liked to acknowledge.

"And you think it would be better for you to get killed along with me?" Giliead returned the glower.

"Remember our plan? One person to distract the wizard while the other sneaks up from behind?" They had actually come up with several variations on that plan to meet different situations, but they all came down to the same basic strategy.

"You expect me to take you along as bait?" Giliead protested. "No!"

"You're the bait, idiot!" Ilias retorted. "While the wizard is trying to figure out which curses will work on you, I surprise him and kill him!"

"Neither of you is going to be bait!" said Karima darkly.

"Ilias is right." Ranior's firm, quiet tone made everyone shut up and look at him. "Giliead shouldn't go alone. And Giliead is right -- Ilias doesn't need to be in danger. I'll go with him."

"Ranior --" Karima began. Ilias could see the fear for her sons that had been haunting her spread to fear for her husband, as well. It was a love match between them; Ranior was a former warrior and former lawgiver, but aging, past his prime. Marrying him had been a step down in status for Karima. Andrien was a respected old family, but dwindling. Karima had no sisters, and with Ranior she'd only had two children, and then Giliead was Chosen by the god -- a prestigious calling, but not one that tended to boost a family's wealth or popularity. Andrien was respected in council meetings but no one's first choice for an alliance. Irisa was going to have to choose her husband carefully and would still pay a higher price than another family might.

"I was hoping that Giliead could work together with Menander, his first time facing a wizard," said Ranior, resting his fingertips on the tabletop. "That might have worked if Giliead had gone with him when we got the reports last year --"

"He was too young!" Karima flared.

Ranior nodded. "Then, perhaps. That was a bad one. But it's been nearly a year. He's reached his full growth now, and he's becoming a man. He's been shaving long enough that he hardly ever cuts himself anymore," he teased with a half-smile, but Karima still looked haunted. "Karima, we knew this was coming. It's time to let him go. I'll go with him, since it's his first time."

"It's not my first time," Giliead muttered stubbornly. But the wizard he had faced as a child -- the same wizard that had killed the previous Chosen Vessel -- had been killed by the god itself. That wouldn't be possible once Giliead started traveling about the countryside in search of wizards beyond the influence of the god of Cineth.

Karima still didn't like it, but she couldn't deny what they had all known for years. Ranior was right: it was time for Giliead to go out and take up his calling, however dangerous it might be.

Ranior was obviously wrong, though, that Ilias shouldn't accompany him.

"So what do you know about this wizard?" Ilias demanded, arms folded as he leaned against the doorway of their shared bedchamber. The house was more than large enough for them to have separate rooms, but it was customary for siblings to sleep in one bed. Ilias had come from a large family and was used to sharing with three or four others, so he had said no when Karima offered him his own room. Irisa used to join them on colder nights, until she grew old enough to find other bedmates.

"It's a woman," said Giliead, stuffing two shirts into his pack and then pulling one out again.

"That's unusual," Ilias commented.

"Yes, most woman wizards don't survive their apprenticeship, or slavery, or whatever you call it. But that just means when one of them does, she's even more crazy than most."


"She hasn't been in this area for long, though. And she was clumsy enough to attract the notice of the god even from that far away. So I think she's inexperienced. A good one to start with." Giliead glanced up from his packing. "I don't need help."

Ilias scowled. "So, wouldn't this be a good one for me to start with, too?"

"No. Ranior's going with me, and that's already too many at risk."

Ilias watched darkly as Giliead checked over his sword -- the nice one that Ranior had bought for him just a few months ago, when they knew he was as tall as he was going to get. "If this wizard is so clumsy and inexperienced, why are you afraid we'll get hurt?"

The line of Giliead's back went stiff, and Ilias knew he'd hit on something important.

"What's she doing that has you so worried?"

Most wizards just killed people; some, especially the older more clever wizards, enslaved people and used them to carry out their dirty work, or just as a way of gathering power. The worst wizards enslaved lots of people, including other, weaker wizards they could use to conceal what they were doing. All of that was bad and a reason to be afraid, but something about the way Giliead was acting told Ilias that this wizard wasn't like most of them.

"She makes people do things," Giliead said in clipped tones.

"Like what? Bring her things, do chores for her, act as lookouts?"

"All that, yes, but also . . ."


Giliead straightened sharply. "Sex things, all right? She makes people have sex with her. And with each other, while she watches."

"Oh." Ilias could see at once how that would upset Giliead, especially if the visions he got from the god had details. Stupid of Gil to think he needed to protect his brother from such things, but at least Ilias understood now. "Crazier than most, huh?"

"Right." Giliead buckled the sword around his waist, hoisted the pack, and stepped up to the doorway.

Ilias was still blocking it. He took a deep breath, ready to argue more, then just shook his head. This was one of those things where Giliead wasn't going to back down, he could tell. And Ranior was almost as stubborn. "Right," he returned, and stepped out of Giliead's way. "Just . . . be careful, all right?"

Giliead nodded and gave Ilias's shoulder a squeeze before he moved out.

Watching his father and brother ride away, Ilias was plotting what time he should sneak out after them.

Nearly three days later, Ilias was looking down at the campsite Giliead and Ranior had abandoned, and swearing at himself for not getting here earlier. Of course he'd been delayed, traveling on foot while the others were on horseback, and they'd had half a day's lead on him, and the moon was a crescent that only gave a few hours' light -- but he should have been faster.

One thing that hadn't been slowing him down was a need to search for food: Irisa had caught him sneaking out and pressed a package of bread, cheese, and smoked fish into his hands. He wouldn't have taken any food otherwise because he didn't want anyone to think he was stealing. Bad enough his first family claimed he had run away when in fact they'd abandoned him to die on a hillside. He wasn't going to give anyone a chance to say such things about him again. He'd also refused to take the household's last horse, but the elderly mare wouldn't have boosted his speed much anyway, even if she didn't go lame.

Now, the Andrien's two best horses were grazing a short distance away, unharmed; the grey mare pricked her ears at Ilias briefly, then decided he hadn't brought her anything. He picked up Ranior's carved bow, caressing the familiar grip uneasily as he tried to read the signs of what had happened. A bedroll was spread out beside the ashes of the fire: Giliead had been asleep. Something must have lured Ranior away while he was on watch -- or forced him away, more likely, since that was what it would take to make him leave his bow behind. Ilias couldn't tell if Giliead had woken immediately afterward or not, but he had left the camp in a hurry.

Ilias's stomach was tight with anxiety, but he remembered Ranior's lectures and forced himself to nibble on a bit of cheese to keep his strength up for the next few hours. He picked up the bow and quiver, selected a string of sinew from the three wrapped carefully in cloth, and strung the bow loosely. He settled the bow and quiver on his shoulder and dropped his own pack here; if he didn't make it back to the campsite, he wouldn't be needing what was in the pack. He followed the trail slowly, careful not to miss anything. Ranior and Giliead had struck out away from the trade road, across the fields and into the woods.

By the time the sun set, Ilias had found the wizard -- and Giliead and Ranior, her prisoners.

She had taken over a medium-size farmhouse some distance from the larger roads. The buildings looked a little neglected, but far from falling down. Under cover of the dimming twilight, Ilias had found his way around the back of the house to a window that let him see into the large common room.

The wizard had set up a sort of court for herself, reclining on a comfortable couch with her profile to the window, her expression hard to see. She was . . . not old, Ilias decided, but worn. Her face had lines and a leathery texture he could pick out even from here, and there was something odd about the shape of her cheekbone and nose, as if they'd been broken in the past.

The room was large enough that four wooden pillars, each as thick as a man's torso, were set in a square to support the rafters. Giliead was tied to one of these, the furthest from the wizard and from the window Ilias was peering through. In the flickering light from the hearth and the oil lamps placed about the room, Ilias could make out bruises and abrasions on his foster-brother's arms showing that he'd put up a struggle; his arms and legs were heavily bound, his forehead pressed against the wood. Apparently Giliead was immune to the wizard's control curses, so she'd had to tie him up.

The others present in the room were obviously under the wizard's control, though, for they were kneeling quietly in a line, facing the wizard's couch. There were three children -- a boy and a girl not more than eight seasons in age, and another girl perhaps ten or twelve. Then a dark-haired young man, a little younger than Ilias, and a woman near Karima's age who resembled him around the eyes and chin.

In the center of the room were two naked people. Ilias gulped as he realized what he was seeing. Ranior was making love to a woman there, his face buried in her crotch. No, Ilias realized: not making love, merely having sex. The woman was making small noises, but they didn't sound right.

Ilias had overheard the sex act in progress innumerable times since he was a small boy -- in his first family's house, at celebrations, or when they traveled and stayed in smaller accommodations. Although a certain respect for privacy was considered polite, no one worried too much about keeping quiet. When he was little, Ilias had found it hard to distinguish the sounds of pleasure and pain. He'd stopped asking about it after the first time, when his brother Castor punched him; but he had taken a while to learn the subtle differences.

These sounds weren't pained, but they didn't seem exactly happy, either. The woman was facing away from the window so Ilias couldn't see her expression, but he would bet it was terrified.

The wizard stirred on her couch. "She doesn't seem to be having very much fun," she commented languidly. Her accent was odd, not one that Ilias was familiar with.

She flicked a hand, and there was a cracking noise like the sound of a whip. Ranior raised his head and gasped, chin glistening with moisture. Ilias saw a red stripe starting across his father's back and realized it was only one of many.

"Do better, or you know what will happen," said the wizard in a sing-song.

With a small sound of frustration or pain, Ranior lowered his head again. The woman he was working on threw her head back and moaned loudly, but it still sounded fake to Ilias's ears.

He was starting to understand why Giliead had his head turned to the wood of the pillar.

The wizard stood up and prowled around the couple. She bent briefly to stroke a finger along one of the welts on Ranior's back, then stepped over him and crouched, straddling his legs. She squeezed his buttocks tightly. "Are you getting ready? Are you warm for her? Are you longing to bury yourself inside her?"

As sick and frightening as the reality of the situation was, Ilias heard those words and the woman's cries of pretended pleasure and felt himself come suddenly to aching attention. He bit his lip on an oath, damning his young, stupid body. He tore his eyes away from the scene and ducked below the level of the windowsill, trying to think.

If the wizard was using threats and punishments on Ranior, did that mean he wasn't under curse control either? Ilias couldn't think why that would be, unless the wizard didn't get as much sick satisfaction out of watching mere puppets copulate. Would Ranior be able to take advantage of some opportunity if Ilias could give him one? Or would the fact that he'd been under a curse earlier make it easy for the wizard to get him under control again quickly?

Ilias considered trying to pull the window open enough to get a shot through it, but it was likely latched for the cooler weather of the season. And the doors were probably cursed to let the wizard know if someone approached -- perhaps even to freeze anyone who touched them; that curse had been mentioned in some of the old stories.

Perhaps he could cause a diversion, something that would make a noise and draw the wizard out of the house. Then he could go in through the window and untie Giliead or just get a good shooting vantage for when she came back in.

He raised his head to peer through the window again and judge how distractable the wizard might be. She was still straddling Ranior, grinding her crotch against his thigh while her fingernails scraped down his back, and now he was fucking the unfamiliar woman below him. The woman had her head turned to one side and Ranior, too, looked more strained than pleasured.

Ilias concluded that shortly after the moment of climax -- the wizard's climax, however that came about -- would be the best time to trigger his diversion. What the diversion would be was another question; it was a shame he'd left the horses behind, since they might have been useful that way. Perhaps he could find a goat or cow lurking somewhere around the farm, something that would move about and make a noise if alarmed.

Then the wizard turned her head and looked straight out the window at Ilias. She didn't seem surprised at all, just smiled at him sweetly -- and he felt the curse come upon him like an iron hand clamping down on the back of his neck.

Without really thinking about it, Ilias had expected that Ranior would be furious when the wizard called him into the room. Instead, his ward-father looked almost ready to cry, which was a strange and disturbing expression on his features. It couldn't be from the whip-marks on Ranior's back, or the anticipation of Ilias receiving similar punishment. So it must be about the other things the wizard was making people do. Ilias wished he could reassure Ranior that he wasn't afraid of a little sex, but he couldn't speak.

The soft noise of surprise from the other side of the room sounded furious enough for two, but Ilias couldn't turn his head to see what was on his brother's face. He didn't care if Giliead was angry or disappointed. Ilias had made a stupid mistake and gotten caught, but obviously the other two had made mistakes also, so they had no business pointing fingers.

Ranior and the woman he had been fucking were standing naked in the center of the room, lit by the light of one fire and several oil lamps. It was unpleasantly warm with a strange smell to the room, and Ilias couldn't help thinking he might have gotten his shot off if he'd just waited for the wizard to open a window. But perhaps she wasn't uncomfortable with the temperature.

The wizard stood waiting with crossed arms as Ilias marched into the room with his legs under the control of another's will. He could see now that her face was oddly asymmetrical, as if it had healed imperfectly after a bad beating many years ago -- probably from her wizard-master, he supposed. His feet stopped before her, just a few steps away from Ranior, and the wizard walked around him assessingly, as if he were a bull for sale at market. Ilias told himself the heat in his face was from the fire.

"So, we have another pretty young thing!" the wizard said at last. "Walked right in to join my party, didn't he? Must have heard about it and couldn't keep himself away -- boys are like that, you know," she confided to Ranior. She stroked Ilias's cheek; he realized her fingernails had been trimmed or filed to sharp points, and hardened somehow -- by a curse, presumably -- so they felt as sharp as bone chips scraping his face.

"Now, what shall we have the pretty boy do? He looks about the age to be forcing girls to do naughty things, doesn't he?" The wizard gestured with one sharp-clawed hand, and the two girls stood up from the row of kneeling people and stepped forward.

Now that Ilias could see them more clearly, he realized the younger girl was no more than six seasons old. Her eyes were red and her face streaked with tears and snot, and his heart stopped at the idea that he might be forced to violate a child's body like that.

The older girl wasn't out of the category of childhood yet, either, her chest still flat and her toes grubby. Her expression was distant, her eyes dead and uncaring as she stepped forward, and suddenly Ilias realized that her shirt was torn down the front.

"Selima here," said the wizard, laying a hand on the older girl's shoulder, "has already tasted the joys of manflesh. She said it wasn't so joyful at the time, but we know what she was really thinking. Of course, the man who gave her that first taste is gone, now." The wizard waved a hand toward the corner.

It took Ilias a moment to realize the gesture wasn't part of another spell; the wizard was pointing at a heap of clothes over there. No, not clothes -- a body, or perhaps more than one, strangely crumpled in the shadows. Ilias finally recognized what the faint rotten odor was in the room and felt his stomach heave.

Behind him, creaking ropes and small grunts said that Giliead was struggling again. One of the boys sniffled off to the side.

"Shall we have the pretty boy give Selima another lesson? Or perhaps he's really naughty and would prefer little Ancia?"

Please, no, Ilias thought. Hurt me, not them. It was my stupid mistake! He understood that expression on Ranior's face now.

"Take off your clothes, pretty boy. Let me see what the spirits of Harvest Eve brought me."

Ilias's body began mechanically to disrobe. First the bow and quiver came off his shoulder, then the sword belt. He noticed that his fingers were a little clumsy and wondered if that was a flaw in the wizard's control of delicate motions. But even if it was, he had no idea how to take advantage of it. He'd been trying to resist the control over his bigger motions and hadn't even manage to hesitate or stagger a little when the wizard made him walk.

"Oh, my my," said the wizard, clucking her tongue when Ilias's pants came off. At least his traitorous body wasn't hard anymore, but it wasn't completely quiescent either. "Not just a pretty boy after all, but a pretty young man.

"I know!" She clapped her hands joyfully. "I have two pretty boys here, one dark and one light. Let's see them together." She waved her hands like a captain directing a ship, and everyone moved to her bidding. The two girls, thank the luck, went back to kneeling in line, and so did Ranior. The woman he'd been forced to fuck picked up Ilias's weapons and clothes and tossed them aside with a clatter, then joined the others. The boy with the unevenly cropped brown curls stood up and began to strip.

"Oh, yes, they do look fine together, don't they?" said the wizard, and Ilias found himself embracing the shorter boy. He was bony, and too young to have been shaving for long, and he smelled of sour fear-sweat and urine. Ilias wondered if the wizard had kept them all kneeling in one place for too long, or if what the boy witnessed had just been that frightening.

This boy also had tears on his face, but they might be more because of the dead bodies in the corner than because he was terrified of sex. Ilias couldn't be sure if he was old enough to have had more pleasant experiences with sex already, but at least he wasn't a small child -- that wasn't much consolation, but it was something for Ilias to hold on to.

"Tell us your name, pretty fair boy," the wizard cooed.

Ilias found his mouth moving without permission. "Ilias." He hoped she wouldn't ask him about his family; learning of his connection to Ranior and Giliead would just give her another weapon to use against them.

"Ilias, how sweet. And this is Arites. I think you two should get to know each other."

Ilias's mouth kissed young Arites -- very clumsily; the wizard's lack of fine control showed here, but it might not be very obvious to an onlooker. His hands swept restlessly up and down the other boy's back, and Arites clasped him back. Ilias heard a rustle, and from the corner of his eye he saw the wizard hoisting her skirts and reaching underneath. He shuddered at the thought of those clawed fingers on sensitive flesh, which didn't make sense given that it was the wizard's own flesh and she didn't seem to mind -- but everything about this place, this night was appalling to Ilias.

The wizard touched herself and made small hungry noises while Ilias and Arites mashed their lips together and rubbed numb hands over each other's bodies. Ilias kept trying to resist the curse that controlled him, tried to move just one finger by his own will; but while the wizard's rule was not perfectly precise, it seemed unbreakable. Only his breath was under Ilias's conscious control, and all he could think of to do with that was to hold his breath until he passed out, which would probably result in some form of punishment -- maybe for him, mabe for one of the children -- when he woke again.

They had been embracing for a few minutes when the wizard made a frustrated noise. "No, no!" she said petulantly. "It's all wrong. You make a pretty picture together, but it's all sweetness -- no spice. We need something a little more . . . piquant."

The wizard, Ilias reflected darkly, had not been tasting Arites' tears or feeling him try to suppress his sobs. But he realized he was just trying to distract himself from what she might consider 'piquant.'

"Oh, I know!" she exclaimed suddenly, and waved at the children. The little girl, Ancia, stepped forward, and Ilias felt his heart sink. But instead of making the girl a sick participant in their embraces, the wizard pulled her close and produced a knife out of nowhere to hold against the girl's throat.

"Now, Ilias, I want you to untie that big one over there. The Chosen Vessel. He won't let me control him, but he's not going to risk the little girl's life, now is he?"

Ilias's arms released Arites, who stepped back into line with his eyes still squeezed shut. Ranior's gaze held the same restrained hope that Ilias was feeling as his feet turn toward the pillar where Giliead was bound. The leather straps holding him in place had tightened until the knots were unmanageable with curse-clumsy fingers, but the wizard, unfortunately, was not stupid enough to come near Giliead with a knife. Instead she told Ilias to keep working on the knots, and released him from the curse.

For a moment he stood blinking, hardly able to comprehend that he had control of his body. Then he looked where he wanted -- at Ranior and the others still kneeling stiffly in a row, at Giliead who was watching him expressionlessly, at the wizard who made a show of squeezing the little girl's throat until she gave a choked whimper. Blinking, Ilias got to work on the knots. Slowly the numbness of the curse bled out of his fingers, but even so he had to use his teeth a few times. The clean, familiar smell of Giliead's sweat was a surprising comfort after being forcibly pressed against an unknown, unhappy boy.

"Leave his feet bound!" said the wizard quickly when Ilias crouched and reached for the hobbles. "He doesn't need to have them free. Now both of you come over here." She pointed with her chin at the open space where she'd been making people act out her wishes.

She looked over Giliead assessingly, but didn't step closer for a better look. "You're a fine strapping young man, aren't you?" she commented.

Ilias mentally rolled his eyes. Everyone was always underestimating him just because he was slighter than Giliead and his fair beard didn't show stubble so obviously. So he was the 'pretty boy,' and Gil was the 'strapping young man.' Ilias knew that he should be plotting to take advantage of the wizard's mistaken assessment, but he was also simply annoyed by it as he had been by similar statements over the years.

"A Chosen Vessel. And just recently come to flower, from what I can sense."

Ilias wondered if she meant that Giliead was finally old enough to be seeking out wizards to fight them, or if she knew somehow that he'd had his first time with a woman just a few days ago.

"I bet you think you're on top of the world, don't you? Like a Chaean king on his throne, sneering down at all the rest of us."

Giliead didn't say anything; Ilias was startled for a moment to realize that either of them could speak, if they wanted to, unlike the cursed puppets over to the side. He moistened his lips experimentally but kept quiet, since it seemed safest.

"How distressing it would be for the great Chosen Vessel to kneel before our pretty boy -- or to get fucked by him. Does that bother you, hmm?"

Ilias blinked rapidly and suppressed an urge to laugh in relief, and his manhood actually began to unfurl a little. That was perhaps the least awful thing the wizard could possibly have chosen. Maybe. He glanced over at Giliead, who was frowning faintly. Maybe the idea did bother him? It wasn't as bad as being forced to fuck little girls, or his father -- Ilias's brain stuttered to a stop. Could the wizard already have done that to them, last night? His eyes flicked toward Ranior, who was also stiff and expressionless. What the hell had that this bitch done to them before Ilias arrived to distract her?

"Strip for me, you big, muscular Chosen Vessel."

Giliead removed his clothes so mechanically that one might almost have thought he really was under a curse. He wouldn't look at Ilias, either, but kept his eyes on the floor.

"Now . . . if you don't want this little girl to die -- and you don't, do you? No, of course you don't. Hands and knees then, big little man -- no, make that elbows and knees. And face to the side so I can see properly."

Giliead went down to the floor gracefully, with perfect control, and Ilias recognized it for the only form of rebellion he dared make. They had their free will, yes, but they were too far away. They would never be able to reach the wizard fast enough to keep her from slashing the girl's throat, or throwing a curse like whatever had killed the man in the corner. So Giliead did as the wizard ordered, and both of them waited for their chance.

"Excellent," the wizard purred with her eyes narrowed as if she'd noted the subtle protest in Giliead's body language. "And now, pretty Ilias, I want you to fuck this fine tall young man. Make it good. I want him to feel it in his throat. I want to hear him howl with despair when he realizes how good it feels to submit to another."

Ilias swallowed, dry-throated. He was nearly at full mast by now, so he couldn't claim he'd be incapable. But it wasn't eagerness that made his hands tremble. The wizard's words were curling through his mind like some poison smoke, making him wonder: would Giliead truly find it so awful to submit to his foster brother? Was that why he'd pushed Ilias aside the other morning?

It was nonsense, of course, but as he crouched behind Giliead and caressed the dear, familiar length of his back, Ilias was beginning to fear this might do irreparable harm to their friendship after all. Maybe it would have been better to be forced into joining with the strange boy, or with one of the women -- someone he didn't know and wouldn't have to deal with again. Of all the things that he had never guessed could be harmed by a wizard, the bond between him and Giliead topped the list.

He wedged his knees in between Giliead's and stroked the smooth skin of his buttocks. This wasn't going to work. He couldn't do this.

"What are you waiting for, pretty boy?" the wizard snapped.

"I -- I need . . . " Ilias licked at his lips. He hadn't tried sex with a man, but he'd heard the talk. There was a lewd saying that those who wished to sneak in the back door had better make sure the hinges were well greased. "I need something to . . . to make it easier. If you want it to be good." Maybe she really wanted him to hurt Gil -- and would that be worse or better than trying to make love properly before such an audience?

The wizard stared at him as if she couldn't believe that any fragment of reality would dare to intrude upon her twisted world. Then a sly look came over her face. "Very well. Let him suck you first. No, wait -- not him." She turned to the line of hostages, considering each in turn. She paused longest on Arites, and Ilias winced to think of using the boy that way. But it was better than some of the other options.

"You," she said at last, and it was Ranior who stood and stepped out of the line.

That was one of the worse options, Ilias realized, his heart sinking. It wasn't that Ranior was vulnerable or needed protection like the little ones -- but Ilias would never be able to look him in the eye again after this. He'd have to move out of Andrien house, maybe find himself a place in Cineth's city guard, or a berth on one of the ships that did pirate patrol.

"Yes, the father who gave his son up to a god, that will be perfect," the wizard said. "Come suck this pretty boy, make him nice and wet so your son doesn't suffer. But don't finish him, or it will be the children who suffer then!"

Ilias saw the moment she released the curse on Ranior; he hesitated a moment, and he glanced about the room just as Ilias had done when he got the chance. Then, bowing his head in submission, Ranior headed toward where Ilias was standing, passing between the wizard and his two sons.

The only warning was one sharp glance from under Ranior's brows; then he spun and lunged at the wizard. One hand dashed the knife out of her grip while the other pulled the little girl free. With a heave, Ranior sent Ancia flying through the air on a frightened wail to land safely on the couch out of the way.

Throwing the girl had cost Ranior his critical moment of surprise. The wizard threw her hand up, and Ranior slumped to the floor with a strange whuff. Ilias was also moving now, heading for the knife that had been cast aside. He'd taken one step when he saw the wizard point to him --

-- and his foot tangled in Giliead's leather hobbles. He went down hard and felt the curse pass over his head like a wave of heat. The children were shrieking, the older hostages scrambling to get out of the way.

Then Giliead was moving, launching himself across the floor in a move that should have been awkward but instead looked like a great cat pouncing. The wizard cast at him, but whatever it was didn't make Giliead go down as Ranior had.

Ilias rolled, groping frantically for the knife. He heard choking noises that meant Gil had the wizard by the throat, but she could still cast curses without her voice, and some of them would probably work on Giliead.

Ilias found the knife under his hand, yelled "Gil!" as he rolled and threw. Giliead twisted, and the knife buried itself to the hilt in the wizard's back.

Ilias was on his feet and most of the way to the wizard when he realized it was over; Gil was letting her fall to the floor, her eyes open and staring. It was the first time Ilias had ever killed someone, and he didn't know where to look.

Then the figure on the floor caught his attention. Ranior had slumped like an empty wineskin, his body folding in on itself. One arm was outflung in an impossible S-shape, twitching and shivering like a horse's hide when the flies bit. This was why the bodies in the corner looked like a heap of clothes; Ranior was naked but seemed more like a discarded man-suit than a real body.

"What did she do to him?" Ilias breathed, as Giliead knelt by his father's body and began to straighten it out carefully.

"She melted all his bones. We saw it last night."

Ranior's head flattened grotesquely on the floor, and the pulse glugged through his neck. His eyelids were half open, but Ilias couldn't tell if he saw anything.

"He's not dead!"

"Not yet, but he can't breathe without ribs. It takes them a few minutes to die. I . . . don't think it's painful." Giliead's voice wavered for the first time, as he carded through his father's silvered brown hair.

They sat there, crouched naked over the naked and distorted body of their father, until he stopped twitching. It seemed to take a long time.

Ilias heard sobbing and looked around. A similar scene was taking place behind him, where Arites hunched over the slack flesh of the woman who had resembled him. "Is that his mother?" Ilias asked in a low voice.

Giliead nodded. "His father was killed last night; so was Faria's husband, the father of the little ones."

Dealing with the aftermath kept them up the rest of the night. Faria, the woman Ranior had been forced to have sex with, alternated between bouts of tears and frantic activity. She herded them all into the kitchen, piled blankets into a nest for the children where she could keep an eye on them, heated some broth and found some flatbread to go with it.

"It's just as well," Giliead said carefully over his bowl of broth, "that the wizard used threats and hostages to make people do her bidding, instead of curses. You wouldn't want to have to get curse brands."

The girl Selima, curled on her mother's lap, looked as if she might protest at this. But Faria just nodded, thin-lipped.

Ilias and Giliead laid out the bodies in the common room, with Arites looking on.

"What do we do with them?" Arites demanded.

"You can take your parents home to bury them," Giliead suggested.

Arites shook his head. "They -- we were traders. We were just traveling by on the road, when . . ." He gulped. "I don't even know what happened to our wagon. I don't know where I'll go, or what I'll do."

"Your parents can lie here," said Faria firmly, carrying in some sheets to wrap the bodies in. "Next to my husband and my parents. What about that?" She pointed at the wizard's body.

"I'm supposed to take the head," Giliead said. "You can burn the rest, or bury it if you want."

"And your father?"

"We'll take him with us."

It was a solemn journey back home, with Ranior's unnaturally limp remains draped over one horse and Arites sniffling on the back of the other.

It was more than a week before Ilias found the words to talk to Giliead about what had happened. They started with a frank, businesslike discussion about the mistakes they had made, and what they might do differently another time. Giliead tried to insist that Ilias shouldn't come hunting wizards with him, but Ilias was adamant on that point. They had planned and practiced for years to do this together -- and anyway, it was what Ranior would want.

That shut Giliead up for a few minutes.

Then he said, squinting toward the sun, "I want to try it."

"Try what?" Ilias asked.

"What she -- what we were going to do. I want to try it without an audience."

Ilias had to think a little about the best thing to say. "I want to try it, too. Do you want to, um, be inside me?"

Giliead shook his head. "Maybe another time. First I want to know what it's like." A faint echo of a smile crossed his face. "If it's good enough to make me howl, I won't care about submitting."

"Come inside, then."

Ilias took him gently and used all the tricks in his limited arsenal to make it last, to make it good, to take Giliead out of his mind for just a little while. Afterward, when Gil was sleeping soundly for the first time since Harvest Eve, Ilias figured he must have done it well.

Ilias stared up at the water-reflected moonlight playing over the walls and overhang of the Ravenna's Sun Deck. He concluded, "So that's why Gil can be a bit . . . shy, about sex."

Tremaine frowned in consideration, her face close to his since she was using his arm for a pillow. "And I thought I had discovered the worst sort of first time a person could have."

Ilias blinked. "You'll have to tell me about that."

"Later, perhaps." She yawned. "I see now why you wanted to get the curse mark."

"I didn't want to -- I had to." Actually, Ilias probably could have gotten around the law if he'd tried; he'd done it before and helped others do it as well. Giliead had argued with him endlessly, it seemed, about the stupidity of getting the mark.

Tremaine snorted as if she'd heard all of Gil's arguments on the matter, and poked Ilias's chest with one finger. "Because of the curse mark, no one wanted to marry you. So no one could take you away from Giliead. Simple." The poking turned into a caress on his cheek where the crescent brand had been set.

That was a reason Ilias hadn't thought of, and he couldn't have used it on Giliead even if he had. But it made a kind of sense. He really wasn't sure what had been going through his mind at that time.

"And then I came along and married you anyway," said Tremaine, and he couldn't tell if she sounded regretful.

"But you promised Karima you wouldn't take me away."

"That's true. Maybe, when this is all over, we can have our own household -- you, me, and Giliead."

Ilias thought that sounded perfect.


quasar273: (Default)

January 2017

8910111213 14

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 21st, 2017 08:37 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios