This is Issue #129 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
“You did not tell him you were keeping a Westlander as a seer,” Secta said, standing outside the Prince’s rooms, as Immanis left, with Jet sleeping in his bed once more.
“You appeared to be in agreement with that being my decision,” Immanis said, looking to Secta, narrowing his eyes.
Secta’s own eyes widened; he stared up at Immanis, wringing his hands briefly, and said, “He would ask why you spared one. Why you would not speak with Gemma. And You would only be able to answer that you worried of his death, or yours. You don’t wish him to worry for either thing. I am in complete agreement for this.” Secta felt his heart in his throat; he had already heard of Gemma’s prediction. He knew the Prince was not long for the world — that Jet would succeed him. If Jet were able to ask the seer questions — he might try to intervene. Nothing would be worse than the Guardian of Ilona challenging fate. “Will you visit him, then?”
“I am headed there. Keep my Jet here. I will not be long,” Immanis said, nodding to Secta.
At once, Secta lifted his jaw, smiling, and held still, waiting. Proud for the praise implied in being asked to do more for the Prince, eager and watchful.
Immanis walked briskly down the hall, in a hurry to get to his seer, and return to the arms of his lover.
* * *
Kieron felt sick to his stomach. At every entrance, he’d stiffened, looking to the door, wondering if He would come in again. The Prince. When He did not, Kieron settled, looking lost. The shackles had been removed. He cleaned himself up. Dressed in the Ilonan fashion — but he had not had a single vision. He didn’t watch anyone’s death. He hadn’t seen one in quite some time. They had been coming in rapid succession since Hoyt — but then, since Ilona… nothing. He had nothing to show for being spared. He could tell the Prince nothing.
Immanis entered the chambers, looking narrow-eyed with determination. “Tell me, little pet. Did you work out some kind of deal with the soldier? He said he would save you, and mentioned all you’d need to do was pretend you’d have visions?”
“No! No, your Majesty,” Kieron said, looking frantic. He raked his hair back from his face, wincing at his stitches, tears in his eyes. “No, please. I have had them. I’ve had them my whole life. They have… they ruined everything,” he explained. “I will have one. I will, your Majesty. And as soon as I do, I will call for you. I beg of you, please believe me.”
“You have another two weeks, at which point I will put you in the hunt,” Immanis said archly. “If you cannot satisfy me with a vision, you will satisfy me in your fear.”
Kieron nodded, gasping, looking frantic. “I will do my best, Majesty, I swear it.”
Immanis turned to go, nodding to Kieron, and Kieron was left alone in the room again, with only his thoughts.
“Please please please,” Kieron whispered, walking back and forth, pacing. “Oh please,” he begged whatever universal force might listen. “I need this. I am here. I am finally here, in Ilona, and I am in the home of the Prince, and if I can gain his favor in any way…”
If I can gain his favor in any way, perhaps I will learn of Jet’s fate.
Kieron got no sleep the night before, and got none this night, determined to push his body to whatever extreme might bring on further visions; he ate only enough to keep from being sick, and began to contemplate bleeding himself, or wounding himself in some way to shock his mind back into its usual practice of betraying him.
“Now it’s betraying me by not betraying me,” he said aloud, and then laughed madly, until he sobbed.
* * *
“You want me to wear what?” Jules hissed.
“Nothing,” Coryphaeus said quietly, watching her. She bristled like a cat that had been splashed with cold water. “Except a collar bearing my house sigil.”
“No,” Jules said, laughing sharply. “Absofuckinglutely not on your life,” she hissed. “I’ll do it as soon as you do it.”
“So we’re in agreement, then,” Coryphaeus said, rolling his eyes.
“You’re going to go to court naked?” Jules asked, looking smug.
“Absolutely not,” Coryphaeus whispered. “You are. You’re the slave. I am your master. I’ll decide what you wear, and you’ll wear it.”
“Kak. Yebat,” Jules snarled, opening her mouth to follow up on the Kriegic scorn.
In his chambers, Coryphaeus whirled, reaching for her. Long, thin fingers curled over Jules’s shoulder, and Coryphaeus moved in quickly. He leaned in his lips near her ear. “When we are alone, bear in mind any misbehavior on your part can be overlooked, on mine. However, Commander, you are lax. You will behave too out of control when I take you in,” he hisses.
Jules’s eyes were wide as she tried to pull back from Coryphaeus’s hand. She trembled when he pulled her close, and she listened, shaking, and finally nodded. “Yes, Legatus,” she whispered. She resented the way he pressed his advantage while claiming to be a good man who was trying to save her.
“Listen to me,” Coryphaeus sighed, releasing her.
Jules had grown to hate that phrase. Inevitably, he explained himself in a fashion that ended up making him sound ultimately reasonable, and she found herself doing precisely that which she hadn’t wanted to do. She grimaced, nodding.
“The Prince assumed you would not yet be broken, by your ordeal. That I would have to break you, to make you a worthwhile servant,” Coryphaeus explained. “To remain in the Prince’s good graces, I must show him I’ve done as he advised, and been successful.”
“And you think that means naked? You’d be a terrible master,” Jules said. “Put a collar on me. No chains. Dress me cleanly, plainly, and I’ll walk behind you with my head down.”
Coryphaeus looked dismissive, pursing his lips and trying not to roll his eyes. “Commander,” he sighed. “That’s ridiculous. How would that show you’re broken in any way?”
“I’ll follow your feet,” Jules explained. “Say what you need to say, order me as you see fit in the moment, and I’ll do it. As for chains, nakedness… making me a bloody wreck… I’ll behave as though I needn’t be controlled in that fashion. As though I follow you because I am too owned not to,” she said, looking at Coryphaeus with pale, determined eyes. “I can make the Prince believe I belong to you,” she promised. “Do not put me on display in the fashion you’re suggesting; I’ll be too vulnerable to be of real use to you.”
Coryphaeus opened his mouth to refute her suggestion, but found he couldn’t really find a problem with it, so much as it simply wasn’t his idea, and so he’d been inclined to disregard it. Irritated at himself for being narrowminded, he closed his mouth again and nodded at her, clipped. “Fine then. We’ll find you a collar. But by all that’s sacred, Commander, you had better be able to actually follow orders when I give them, even if in the moment you disagree,” he said, looking not quite certain.
“If you think you can free the surviving soldiers, Legatus,” Jules said, “I can follow your orders unto death.”
* * *