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 Six: Kenet
“What do you mean, Sergetten isn’t here?” That my father’s advisor and my tutor should not be present when expected stunned me.
“I mean,” said the scholar who kept the archives in order, “I have not seen him yet today, my prince. Normally he arrives long before you.”
“You’re sure he’s not in there somewhere?” I waved a vague hand at the entrance to the archives themselves. I rarely ventured there myself and the keepers preferred it that way, usually only allowing Sergetten and some other high ranking scholars to enter the repository. Others had to petition to have materials brought to them and it was in the reading room where they would wait that Sergetten and I usually had lessons.
“No, my prince, he is definitely not here. As I said.” The man was short and his hair was shot through with gray. Velred was his name, and he had been head archivist since before I was born. “He left no instructions and sent no messages.”
“And can you verify that I am on time?” I pondered how long I should wait, if at all.
“Yes, my lord, you are most definitely on time. And this is most definitely unusual for him to be absent.” He nodded sagely. “If he arrives, where shall I tell him to seek you out?”
Well, that decided it. “The afternoon’s too nice to waste indoors anyway,” I said. The last of winter had left the mountains and spring was in full bloom. “I shall be in the garden, or perhaps the terrace. Yes, the terrace. I may as well read the histories out there.”
Velred cringed a bit, probably at the thought of me taking one of my ancestor’s diaries out of doors, but the books were mine in truth, not his. And it is not as if I would have sat out in the rain reading.
So I went out to the terrace, but I did not get much reading done. Not when I heard the clang of metal on metal from the terrace level below me. I looked over the hedge-topped wall to see Jorin on his back, his sword on the ground next to him, and Bear looking down at him and laughing.
“That was hardly fair!” Jorin said, taking the proffered hand and getting back to his feet, then picking up the sword again.
“Fair. They won’t fight fair if they’re trying to kill you, cub.” Bear took a step back and raised his sword in an offensive stance.
Bear was only a name, of course. He was a man, but a large one, with a dark-brown beard. They say I am the one who first called him Bear when I was too small to remember.
Jorin raised his weapon and I held my breath. Jorin had been learning arms for two years now, but I had never seen him practice. We used to have fencing practice against each other when we were younger, but no longer. Jorin seemed impossibly small compared to Bear, half his size or less, and even his sword was smaller. Would he end up on the ground again?
But then there was a flurry of movement, sword clashing against sword, and Jorin was suddenly behind Bear, who turned too slowly, and received a slap on the back of the shoulder with the flat of Jorin’s blade.
I suppressed the urge to applaud. They had no idea I was watching.
I had no idea Jorin could move like that. And with crusted welts still on his back from yesterday, too. I wondered if he would let me salve them again tonight or if he would insist on shrugging me off. He and Bear were laughing about something now, and taking up their positions again.
“It is almost like a dance, isn’t it?” said a voice behind me.
I turned to see not Sergetten but the Lord High Mage himself, Seroi. I gave him a nod of my head as befitted his rank, though I wasn’t compelled to use his honorific. “Yes, rather,” I agreed, returning my gaze to the combatants below, trying to pretend I wasn’t unnerved by Seroi’s presence.
I had not spent much time with him in my life, mostly seeing him at banquet dinners and in the occasional council session with my father. There was one diplomatic trip to the northern border we took, my father’s retinue and I, that he accompanied a few years ago. The plain truth was that there were times when I felt he could see straight down into my soul. He knew depths of magic that even my father and Sergetten could never hope to fathom and I always wondered what truth he saw when he looked at me.
There was one night in particular when our encampment and that of a traveling band of tinkers shared a fire pit. Jorin and I and some of the tinker lads had played a game, tossing a braided ring of willow back and forth with sticks, until the fire had burned low. I had left Jorin talking and joking with the lads while I stole off to the creek to rinse myself.
I still remember the moon that night, because of how brightly it burned, but also because as I stood in the stream, washing myself, I felt very strongly that someone was watching me. It was as if the moon itself were a great eye taking in the sight of my naked flesh. I dressed hurriedly once I got out of the water, trying to shake the feeling. It was only after I returned to the camp, and saw Seroi returning shortly after, that I began to suspect perhaps he had been the one watching me.
But he had never approached me, never touched me, never did anything that could be considered wrong. In fact, we had barely exchanged enough conversations to count on one hand, so I could hardly consider him much of a threat to me.
“I understand your tutor has abandoned you, at least for the time being,” he said, dragging my attention back to him from the swordplay below. He was strange to look at, as if his face were too smooth sometimes, his hair too perfect, slick and black. The only hint of his age was a few silver streaks in among the black. In the sunlight the effect that he was not quite real was heightened.
“Yes,” I said, not wanting to speak ill of Sergetten—not to this man, anyway.
His smile showed even, white teeth. “Well. Perhaps it’s time I took an interest in your education, my prince?”
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