Welcome to The Prince’s Boy by Cecilia Tan, a tale of a prince and his whipping boy ensnared in a plot of dark erotic magic. Warning: explores themes of dubious consent and situations of sexual jeopardy. NSFW.
A new chapter appears every Wednesday. This week is Chapter Eleven: Jorin
Once Bear decided I was ready, he took me down to the guard barracks to train. There were several men already leaning on the split wood of the pen, watching two of their fellows striking at each other with sticks. As we drew closer I saw they were not merely sticks, but wooden practice swords. Each man dipped his weapon into a pot of ground powder before they began, and afterward each examined the streaks left on his uniform where various blows and cuts had landed.
One of the men called out to Bear and the two combatants stopped to watch us approach.
“This one is Jorin,” Bear said, pushing me forward toward a tall, thin man with a scar under his eye.
“I’m Captain Jaiks,” the man said, looking me up and down. I knew who he was, of course, but we’d never before been introduced. The palace guard all knew who I was, as well. “He’s a bit skinny for a fighter, isn’t he?”
“Bet he can take a blow to the back, though…” said one of the soldiers, provoking laughs from the other men.
“Only one way to shut them up,” Bear grumbled in my ear, pulling a wooden sword from the barrel standing nearby and handing it to me. “You won’t find him easy meat!” he called to the others, then again just to me: “Don’t prove me wrong now, cub.”
One of the men vaulted over the fence and the one who remained twirled his sword by the handle. I copied the move to get into the ring and landed on sand. The footing was tricky to get used to, but at least if I fell, I wouldn’t break anything. I dipped several inches of the wooden blade into the powder.
He came at me before I could quite set myself but I didn’t care. The moment he swung at me I charged inside his guard and hit him in the sternum with my shoulder. He fell back on his rear end in the sand with an indignant grunt. I stepped back to wait for him to gain his feet again.
“No points for knockdowns,” Captain Jaiks said, stripping a bit of bark off a sechal cutting and chewing it. “Only for clear blows.”
“You’re saying I should have struck him while he was down?” I called, which brought out a few chuckles from the others.
“Thunder, yes!” Jaiks cried. “One right on the sword arm would have been perfect. Then take him for questioning or kill him at your leisure. On the battlefield, though, just go for the decapitation and then go after the next milksucking whorefucker you see.”
The man charged again and I slipped aside and struck him on the back as he went by. It was the last clear blow for a while, though, as he changed to subtler tactics after that, finally accepting he had to fight me like an equal. We circled and feinted, exchanging blocks and blows, until I finally landed a lucky one that clipped him on the chin. He grunted as he wiped the powder from his face, trying to look tough, but the sneeze that followed somewhat ruined that image.
“Enough, Bolan, let someone fresh have a try,” Jaiks said then. My opponent gave me a quick salute and hopped out of the ring.
Another took his place, and we traded back and forth for several minutes. The sun was rising high in the sky, and he shed his uniform coat and shirt, stripping to the waist. I did the same without thinking, then heard the tone of the commentary behind me shift. The evidence of the king’s last beating must have still been visible. I hadn’t paid it much mind myself, since the bleeding had stopped.
My opponent couldn’t see what they were muttering about, but he was distracted nonetheless. I came in awhirl, ducking his blow, and striking him in the gut with the handle. He stumbled back and fell, and I laid the tip of my sword against his bare breastbone.
“Well?” Bear said to Jaiks.
“All right, you’ve proved your point. Jorin!” The captain tossed the stick in his hand aside and motioned for me to approach him. He stood with one boot on the lower rail of the fence. “You’ve proved you won’t get killed practicing with us. I run a group of men here every other day, sword, hand to hand, axe. Can you ride a horse?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Captain.”
“Might work on that, too, sometimes, just for fun. Not much need for cavalry skills inside the castle, after all.” He whistled and the men came to attention. “Time to eat. You two heading back up, or will you join us?”
Bear grunted. “Join you, Captain.”
“Inside.” Jaiks turned on his heel and made for the doorway to the barracks, where I presumed their midday meal was served. The others followed him briskly.
I put my shirt back on and with one hand on the top of the fence, swung my legs over.
“Hurry up, cub. Rations are a bit short right now,” Bear said.
“Are they?” I hadn’t noticed any shortage at the king’s nightly banquet, but then, I supposed, the king would be the one man not to cut back.
“That grain blight in the south has put bread in short supply, gruel and meal, too.” He cuffed me on the head. “Up there you won’t notice, where they just pile up more meat and fruit, but the meat will start to run short soon, too, if they can’t feed the animals.” He shook his head. “Got to hope the heat of summer brings on a good northern harvest to make up for it.”
We entered a low, dark building that smelled of charcoal and woodsmoke. At one end I could see the cooking fires and ovens, long tables laid out lengthwise. We joined the line toward the cooks.
I barely paid attention to what I ate, though. Some kind of meal-cake soaked in gravy, with a few strips of slow-cooked meat across the top, but my attention was on the chatter of the men around me. I took a seat and Bear left me then, hurrying to catch someone he wanted to talk to. Inside the castle, the guards rarely spoke, almost as if they’d taken a vow of silence. But out here, among their fellows, I got quite an earful. Grain blight, bad fishing on the coast all winter, poisoned wells to the east, all were being blamed on the Night Riders, though I couldn’t see how a roving band of rebels could have ruined the fishing. And how could they have been in the east and the south at once? Everyone knew they were working with the Parvanians and the Frangit to destabilize us, but… Well, what did I know of fishing? Nothing. And the reason the Night Riders evoked such fear was they supposedly had evil magic at their disposal. A band of bogeymen to scare children into being good, I sometimes thought. If they were truly evil mages, why didn’t they just attack the castle directly? I suppose Seroi was the answer there, and they weren’t strong enough to challenge him.
“Have you ever actually seen a Night Rider?” I asked the man next to me, who had finished his meal and was cutting a strip of sechal bark with his boot knife.
He handed the first strip to me and I accepted it with a sign of thanks. “Not around here,” he said. “They keep to the fringes, you know. But before I joined the castle garrison I was stationed at Tiger’s Mouth.”
“Where is that?” I asked, truly curious. Geography had been in Kenet’s lessons, so I had learned some, but not to the detail he had.
“Where the two rivers come together, where the Getten meets the Serde, they call it Tiger’s Mouth,” he said, pocketing the twig again and just chewing on the sliver he held in his fingers. “I’m here now because that entire garrison was destroyed in one night by the Night Riders.”
I stared at him. “How?”
“How not?” he answered, with a slap on my back. “Flaming balls of fire from the sky, dark beasts tearing down the walls… we were forced to flee into the forest and in the morning all that was left standing were a few piles of rubble and charred stumps. The army won’t rebuild there until they can send a suitable force, and with the Parvanian raiding parties stepping up their activity now they the mountain passes are free of snow again? I don’t know that suitable force exists.”
I frowned. “I thought General Roichal had ten thousand men, though.”
“Total, yes. Not all in once place, though. They won’t send less than a thousand to purge the area of Tiger’s Mouth, though. We were almost two hundred fifty and they routed us.”
“How many of them are there?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No one knows.”
A heavy hand landed on my shoulder. “Come on, cub. Time to head back.”
As we made our way up the hill, through the inner guard wall, I could not help but ask. “What use is training with axes and swords if the Night Riders can throw fire?”
He cuffed me on the head. “Most of the enemies you could meet, can’t. Learn to fight men first, cub. Then ghosts.”
“The Night Riders are ghosts?”
“Of course not!” he scoffed. “But they appear and disappear like them, and you might as well concern yourself with them about as much.”
We reached the quarters I shared with Kenet and I frowned to see the door open. Bear motioned me aside, checking carefully, but just on the opposite side was a maid on a step stool, cleaning the soot stains from the stone above the door. She rushed off, back through the servant’s door at the other end. There was no sign of Kenet.
“He’s at his lessons, still,” I said with a shrug. “Though I seriously wonder what he’s learning, given that Sergetten seems to be gone. He said he just reads the histories down at the archive. Will Sergetten be back soon, you think?”
Bear grunted. “Don’t know. I…” But then he turned suddenly at some sound from the hall.
There stood Kenet, looking pale and drawn. His eyes met mine and widened. “Jorin,” he said, like he suddenly recognized me.
“What’s wrong?” Bear demanded, but Kenet threw his arms around my neck, trembling. “What’s happened to you, princeling?”
He shook his head, though, refusing to speak.
“Have you been bitten by something poisonous? Fall from a horse? Eat something bad?” I asked. He shook his head again and again. “Do you need to lie down?” This time a nod.
“I’ve got him,” I said to Bear. “Give me an hour with him and then send up some soup if I don’t call for help sooner.”
Bear folded his arms. “Be careful with him.”
I glared at him, but without much malice. He knew Kenet was the most precious thing to me in the kingdom. I guided him to his bed and heard Bear shut the door firmly behind him. I set my usual alarms on that door and bolted the maid’s entrance.
I brushed my dry palm over his forehead. He was a bit sweaty. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I can’t,” he whispered. “Just… just hold me, Jorin. I’ll be all right in a little while.”
I started to slip from my trousers and breeches, but his high-pitched “No!” spoke of panic. “No, just, right now. Hold me… as you are.”
I curled against him, my clothes, his, and a blanket between us, making him a warm solid bulk under my arm. He was quickly asleep and I was left wondering what could possibly have happened to him during his lessons to leave him this way.
* * *
About the author: Cecilia Tan is the award-winning author of many erotic books and stories and the founder of Circlet Press.