Haunt of Stars
Hadrian stood near the edge of the dock, watching the sailors load the ship with supplies. Pirates, Hadrian corrected himself, eyeing the cruel hooked blade on one of the mens belt. These men were pirates.
Gam had suggested that he wear his hood up. It had occurred to them that Borley might recognize Hadrian as a ni Leyanon and stop off in Jeynesa to claim the bounty on him. To limit the chance, they decided that Hadrian should stay out of eyesight as much as possible. If these men knew how much he was worth Hadrians stomach tightened with dread at the thought of being at the mercy of these men. Thieves, smugglers, ruthless killers.
Hiding? a voice interrupted his thoughts.
Hadrian turned to see Caled. The mercenary strolled up, carrying a sack over his shoulder, his golden hair blowing in the wind.
Whats the matter, Hades? Afraid I was a pirate?
Hadrian turned back around, ignoring Caleds last comment. Gam suggested it, he said, answering his earlier question. As a precaution.
Caled stopped beside him, studying the sorcerer. You look like a woman, he observed. He leaned in closer. A virginal one at that, he whispered, a heated look in his eyes.
Caled! Gam called out, walking up before Hadrian had a chance to respond. The smaller man ducked his head, thankful his cloak hid the blush that was staining his cheeks. Glad you decided to show up. The thief grinned. And here I thought we were going to have a nice quiet trip.
No such luck, Caled replied. There is this small matter of a friend I have to save. Besides, there is still the geas and until thats removed, Im not letting our exquisite little sorcerer out of my sight.
Gam rolled his eye. Uh, huh. Geas. Sure.
Hadrian could feel the flush that stained his cheeks deepen. Instead of responding, he stepped away from the relative shelter of the building he had been leaning against. The wind hit him strong, sweeping strands of his hair across his face and the cloak against his body. He started to move over to where Manix and Syellen stood, not too far from Lio. The thief was speaking to one of the pirates. Hadrian glanced around, disconcerted by the way the pirates stopped what they were doing to watch him walk by. He grabbed the edges of his cloak and wrapped it firmly around him. Someone cleared his throat behind him. Several of the pirates quickly glanced away from him and continued with their work. He turned his head to see Caled and Gam following after him, the mercenary glaring at anyone whose gaze lingered too long. Hadrian stomach tightened again at this sign of possessiveness.
So, you finally decided to show up, Syellen observed as they approached, a touch of distasted coloring her voice.
Ah, Sy, Caled said with mock sweetness, what kind of gentleman would I be to deprive you of my presence?
A wise one, Gam muttered.
Or yourself of Hadrians? she queried, a dazzling smile on her face. Manix looked at her in mild disapproval.
You stabled your horse with ours? he asked.
Yes. An acquaintance of yours, isnt he? he asked, turning to Gam.
The thief nodded. Yeah. Hell keep them safe for us.
Caled, you finally got here, Lio said, walking up.
I find that this group has a real gift for stating the obvious, Caled muttered. Hadrian ducked his head, hiding a small smile.
The captain says we can board now, Lio said, a forced lightness to his voice. He turned, leading the way, Gam and Caled following with Hadrian in the back behind the mages.
The ship, the Palatine, was fairly clean, which slightly surprised Hadrian. He had expected it to be as intimidating as the crew, but it looked like any other ship hed been on. The crew was gathered on the deck, sneering at them as they boarded. Hadrian felt uneasy and he found himself almost wishing he had someone to cling to as he watched Syellen gripped Manixs tunic until her knuckles were white. Manix was looking around calmly. If the scrutiny bothered the thieves and mercenary, they didnt show it. They walked through the crowd as if they belonged there, heading straight for the clearing in the center of the deck where the man Lio had been speaking to stood.
Captain Borley, Lio started as they approached.
Borley was a tall man, muscular as if he spent a lot of time fighting. Hadrian couldnt help but liken his stature to Caled. But that was where the comparisons ended. The captains skin was rough and dark, like worn leather. His dark hair had golden streaks through it, no doubt lightened by the hours he spent in the sun and his eyes were a bright blue green, startling in his dark face. Lio, Borley said, his voice smooth like he was skilled at persuasion, how good of you to show. And with such an entourage. Its almost as if you dont trust me. The crew around them chuckled. Youll forgive me for the display, I hope, Borley said, addressing them. But my crew and myself are curious to meet your friends. His eyes swept over them, lingering on Syellen. When the pirate turned to him, Hadrian could see a dark curiosity and he was suddenly glad no one could see his face. Unfortunately, he had the unsettling feeling that was about to change. I hope youll introduce us.
I am not sure introductions are necessary, Caled said, his tone dark.
Borley smiled at him. Humor me, he drawled, gaining another chuckle from the crew.
Lio cleared his throat. You have already met Gam, he started. He motioned towards the mercenary. This is Caled.
Ah, Gavedons Bane, Borley said in an amused tone. The crew laughed. Caled continued to watch Borley, his face blank as if he could not hear the laughs of the crew.
Lio moved on. This is Manix, an Elder, and his apprentice, Syellen. The crew grumbled. They didnt seem to be very happy with the revelation that there were going to be mages on the ship with them. Borley raised an eyebrow.
Such interesting company for a thief, he observed. He turned, stepping in front of Hadrian. And who is this? he inquired.
Lio hesitated. This is Hades, he replied.
I see, the captain replied. Then he laughed. No, actually I dont. Come, he said reaching forward, lets remove the hood.
Hadrian ducked out of reach. He wasnt sure exactly why, but the pirate captain made him extremely nervous. He was sure of one thing, however. He did not want Borley to touch him.
The captain clucked his tongue. Now, now. Thats not very friendly. He shot out a hand, grabbing Hadrian firmly by the arm.
I do not see how it is necessary in the retrieving of the Collars for you to manhandle our companion, Caled said, his voice cold as the wind on Fierans Peak.
On the contrary, Borley replied, it is absolutely necessary. It is, after all, my ship. He reached up, grabbing the back of the hood. Hadrian struggled, trying to pull away but the larger pirate held him easily. He slowly pulled off the hood.
The wind immediately whipped his hair about. Borley looked at him, a slow grin spreading over his lips. His eyes roamed over Hadrians face. He turned the sorcerer around to face the crew. A chorus of whistles and cheers erupted as the captain walked the smaller man around for all to see. Hadrian ducked his head, humiliation staining his cheeks, but Borley placed a hand under his chin, raising his face to all.
Let me guess what he is good for, he drawled. The crew howled, hoots, catcalls and explicit suggestions floating being shouted from all around. Borley continued to hold him still for a moment, then threw him hard onto the deck.
Get to work, you rats, he shouted out. Lift anchor and drop the sails. Lets away from this hole. As the crew jumped to do Borleys bidding, he turned to Lio. There are two cabins down below, third and fourth to the right. You and your entourage can make us of them. He spared another look at Hadrian. There is not much room, but he looks lithe, he sneered. Im sure you can managed. He walked away.
Life on a pirate ship wasnt as bad as Hadrian had first thought. He was not harassed by the people on board, he could sleep as much as he wanted, and there wasnt the sense of constant travel, strangely enough. Most of this was due to the fact that he absolutely refused to leave the cabin, nor was he encouraged to.
The two cabins Borley had supplied for them were cramped, but they had been informed of that, he recalled with a shudder. There were four beds in each room, two stacked above the others on the left and right walls. A single porthole was the only illumination. As usual Manix and Syellen slept in one of the cabins while Lio, Gam, Caled, and Hadrian took the other. Everyone seemed to believe this would be safest for Hadrian, due to having so many people keeping watch over him. The sorcerer had his doubts.
The thieves and the mercenary were rarely in the cabin. Lio was often called upon to speak to the captain. It seemed to give the pirate a perverse pleasure watching the smaller man squirm under his ruthless gaze. The resulting tension left Gam too nervous to stay still for long and the thief often left the cabin to wander about. Caled, of course, would not be intimidated. Because of this, he avoided being locked in the room as often as possible. Hadrian believed he did it to get under Borleys skin as much as to simple escape the trapped feeling caused by the tiny quarters.
That was another problem that Hadrian had not managed to overcome. For twelve days now he had been locked in the small room like an animal in a cage with little human contact and nothing to do all day but sleep. Sometimes he would stand between the beds and look out the porthole, longing for the wind in his hair, the spray of the sea. But he dared not leave the room. He had even considered asking Manix to teach him just to relieve the boredom, but he was still hurt by the mages quick dismissal of Lios peril back in the inn.
Yet there was one thing that kept the sorcerer busy: the simple fact that, on the ship, there was no Life.
It had taken him a full week to come to that startling realization. The ship was dead wood. It could not hold Life. When he had realized this, Hadrian had removed his gloves and ran the tips of his fingers over the walls, gasping at the feel of the cool, damp air and coarse planks on his sensitive skin. That evening, when Gam had brought him a bowl of stew and had left to join the others, Hadrian had pulled his gloves off and eaten as much of the stew as he could with his fingers, just to have something to do with his bare hands. The feel of the warm broth sliding over his fingers, the slick vegetables and tender meat between his fingertips, his tongue chasing the liquid over his palm to lick his hands clean had been one of the most erotic experiences he had in a while. He had enjoyed it, but he vowed never to do it again. It was not worth working himself up over. He had considered relieving the ache but he knew that, somehow, Caled would know and he would shame him for his weakness.
Hadrian rolled over on the cot, turning away from the porthole. The argument over whether to accompany Lio to Fortunes Cove had occurred almost two weeks ago, but the mercenarys words still stung. Caled reminded Hadrian of that day often, trying to make the sorcerer feel guilty over what had happened. However, he had rarely, if ever, specifically mentioned the other mercenary, Tye.
Caleds words had wounded him deeply, more deeply than he wanted to admit. He was tired of trying to prove himself, tired of trying to convince Caled that Gavedon had forced him to participate in the slaughter. More that anything, he was tired of feeling so helpless.
The door to the cabin opened, shaking Hadrian free of his thoughts. He frowned, wondering whom it was. He had eaten not long ago. Had he fallen asleep again? He rolled slightly, lifting his head to the door and was met by a pair of eyes the startling color of seawater.
Hadrian crawled back, his heart pounding in his chest as he struggled to sit upright. Borley moved slowly, his movements deliberate as the stepped into the cabin, closing the door behind him. Hello, Hades. The captains smooth drawl sent shivers down Hadrians spine. You must be going crazy, locked up in this cabin all the time. Dont they ever let you come out?
Borley stalked into the center of the room. Hadrian thanked whatever gods were responsible for his size as he tucked himself as far back into the corner as he could. I dont really have the desire to, he replied, his voice sounding slightly breathless in his nervousness.
The larger man stepped up to the edge of the cot. Come now. Surely you do not enjoy being in here all the time?
Its quiet, Hadrian replied.
Borley placed a hand on his knee. The sorcerer shrank back, unable to move farther away. A slow smile tugged at the pirates lips. Are you frightened of me?
I am not afraid of you.
You huddle like a kitten out of my reach. Why else if you are not afraid?
Your handling of me before was unwelcome, Hadrian said, a chill in his voice. I do not care for another such performance.
Was I too rough with you? Borley asked, amusement coloring his tone. The hand on Hadrians knee began a soft caress up his thigh. Come here, my kitten, he purred. Let me show you how gentle I can be.
Hadrian kicked at him, but Borley was ready. The pirate easily dodged the leg and grabbed Hadrians ankle, pulling hard. The sorcerer flung out a hand, trying to catch himself on a bedpost to prevent himself from tumbling off the cot, but before he could, Borley grabbed his hips, lifting him off the cot and moving him against the wall. The captains hips held the sorcerers body off the ground as each hand grabbed a wrist, pinning the smaller man to the wall. Hadrian continued to struggle, searching for some kind of leverage to push the captain off.
You want your friends to live, dont you? Borley snarled. Hadrian hesitated at the harsh words. Yes, thats right, kitten. I am the captain of this ship and my word is law. I could insist that they all go for a swim. Hadrian hissed, trying to jerk his hands free. You dont want that, Hades. Its a long way to shore.
What do you want with me? Hadrian growled.
Borley moved his mouth the smaller mans ear. Think of your friends, he whispered. Be still.
Hadrian wanted to scream, but he slowly forced himself to still. His mind searched desperately for a way out of this, but he could find none. Calling for help was the only other option and that would do nothing. He could not stand to watch his companions thrown off the ship to die. He did not see much choice in the matter. A terrible yet all too familiar numbness filled him as he sagged into the pirates arms.
Thats it, kitten, Borley purred, running his tongue along the delicate shell of Hadrians ear. He cautiously slipped his hands up the smaller mans arms, smiling when he didnt move. The hands moved to his hips, lifting him up to press against the captains arousal. He allowed himself to be manipulated, his head lolling back as he lost the support of the wall. Borley leaned forward, his mouth latching onto the pulse point of Hadrians neck.
The door to the cabin opened. Let him go. Caleds voice was cold.
Hadrian closed his eyes. He did not want to see the look on the mercenarys face.
Lips lifted from his throat. And if I dont? Borley asked. There was the soft hiss of a dagger leaving its sheath. The pirate chuckled. My crew would kill you.
You would still be dead.
The life of your thief is still in my hands.
You need him to retrieve the Collars.
A hand left his hip. A moment later, fingers were sliding down his throat. I only need one of you, Borley said softly.
We dont need you at all, Caled said. There was a soft step as the mercenary moved forward. Argue as you will, pirate. There is only one way you leave here alive.
I suppose I cant argue with that? Borley said, his dark tone belying his easy words.
Caleds voice was hard. You offered Lio his life in exchange for the Collars. We will retrieve them for you. But you will not threaten any of us. Caled voice darkened. And you and your crew will never touch Hades again.
Consider it done, was Borleys cold reply. He stepped back, releasing Hadrian before the younger man had the chance to right himself. Hadrian hit the floor hard and lay still, keeping his eyes closed as he mentally searched his body for injuries. There was the scuffling of movement near the door, then the rustle of clothes directly in front of him.
Hadrian? Gam asked.
Hadrian readied himself, and then opened his eyes. Gam knelt in front of him, blocking his view to the rest of the room. Are you okay?
He nodded, not quite trusting his voice. He pushed himself up, Gam reaching forward to help him. He winced as he moved his right leg, a sharp ache throbbing in that hip. He didnt think it was broken, just badly bruised from falling on it. Upright he could see Caled in the doorway, his face blank. Do you think you can stay out of trouble? Caled asked, his tone cold.
Yes, Hadrian replied, his voice perfectly calm. A part of him worried about how numb he still felt but he couldnt gather the energy to try to care.
Something flashed in Caleds eyes. Come on, Gam. The thief glanced back at Hadrian. When he didnt receive a sign from the sorcerer, he nodded and walked out. Caled stayed in the doorway for a moment. Im beginning to wonder, Hades, if you enjoy being ravished. Hadrian did not speak. Caled grabbed the door handle. Next time, I may find out. The door closed behind him.
Hadrian sat in silence, waiting for the chilling numb to leave. He slowly pulled off one of his gloves, lifting his bare hand to the pulse in his throat where Borleys lips had been. Had he liked it? He didnt think so, but he wasnt sure. He couldnt feel anything.
Something wet hit his hand. He raised his hand to his cheek and was almost surprised to feel a tear slide under his fingertips.
He was so tired of feeling helpless.
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