This is Issue #130 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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“Welcome, again, Legatus,” the Prince crooned, welcoming Coryphaeus with open arms.
The Ilonan officer smiled faintly, and accepted the embrace.
“And what is this?” Immanis asked of Coryphaeus, looking past him toward Jules, who kept her eyes down, and her hands clasped behind her.
Dressed as a servant and not simply a slave, Jules stood so very still, and let her quiet lack of response answer the Prince. Her simple robes ended above the knees, to keep her legs and feet bare, so that she could hurry with ease, and her milkwhite skin was a source of fascination for many who saw her.
“This is the Westlander you so graciously allowed me,” Coryphaeus said. “It cleans up nicely, as they say.”
Jules found it remarkably easy to not roll her eyes; she trained herself to listen to only the Legatus and the Prince, and only for orders or questions from the latter.
Immanis stepped down from his dais and approached Jules, walking around her slowly. Jules could feel the heat of Immanis’s skin as the Prince reached out a hand, and put his fingertips to her chin, to turn her gaze up to him. “What do you call it?” Immanis wondered, watching her face, but not addressing her.
“It doesn’t have a name,” Coryphaeus said. “If I must address it, if it is too stupid to know it is being addressed without being called upon, I will call it ‘servus,’ your majesty.”
“Ah,” Immanis chuckled, rubbing his thumb over Jules’s lower lip. “What a freakish thing it is, all pale skinned even in the sun. Hair all wiry and bushy like desert weed,” he remarked, without any evidence of dislike in his voice — simply curiosity.
Jules didn’t blush, and was grateful for it. She looked to Immanis without fear; she had been given away to Coryphaeus — there was no interest in her besides potentially making Coryphaeus nervous or feel very much indebted.
Finally, Immanis tapped Jules’s cheek and said, “Look at me, servus.” The word on his tongue felt obscene in her ears, and Jules felt as though her eyelids were heavy as she lifted them to look upon the Prince of Ilona, the pale of her eyes settling onto the dark of his. Something in her wanted to look away, cried out in fear. Something in her couldn’t resist, didn’t want to.
“Yes, your majesty?” Jules whispered, staring up at Immanis. She could not blink but instead stared at the Prince until her eyes began to water.
Immanis asked, “Tell me the truth — are you frightened?”
“Yes,” Jules breathed. “Terrifi–” Her breath caught, and she felt the dizzying, wrenching, wrong feeling that signaled slipping. So far, she was still there. So far. But it was coming. “Terrified,” she breathed, and for one instant, she glanced away, trying to meet Coryphaeus’s eyes, pleading.
The Legatus’s brows lifted, and he cleared his throat, saying, “Your Majesty — I was hoping that this invitation would allow us to view at least a part of the hunt?”
“The entirety will be televisored,” Immanis said. “They’ve been preparing for it for some time now. I have a number of prey. The Guardian will be joining me. I expect it shall be glorious,” he murmured, turning away from Jules, releasing her from his attentions.
The tension bled from Jules, and she shivered, taking a step back, trying to catch her breath.
“Of course you are invited to watch the hunt from the comfort of my personal study. There will be refreshment and likely gambling based on which prey you think will last the longest. I may make it a friendly competition between myself and our Guardian,” he laughed. “Though I may have to ask him to go easy on me.”
“Your swordsmanship is legendary, Majesty,” Coryphaeus said. “The Guardian’s protection is, of course, without parallel, but your skill, my Prince, has been heralded since your coming of age.”
Jules felt her head spin; she shifted to step closer to Coryphaeus, and stumbled, swooning.
He caught her, with no small amount of grace, and it was only the Prince who noticed, with no small amount of amusement, the look of concern on the Legatus’s face. “Servus,” Coryphaeus hissed. “What has come over you?”
“Forgive me, dominus,” Jules said, her voice low, her pale eyes lifted to him, pleading. “I am so clumsy,” she whispered tightly, squeezing his hand hard enough his knuckles ground together.
“Your Majesty,” Coryphaeus sighed dramatically, tearing his eyes away from Jules. “If I may be excused, before it embarrasses itself further.”
“Absolutely,” Immanis said, looking desperately amused. He gestured an easy dismissal, wearing no concern, but instead a mischievous sort of expression. Oh, Legatus, how easily your pretty face betrays your heart. What a ridiculous fool you are to think I don’t know your feelings. “Though I believe it will be my pleasure if you will join us for the evening meal tonight?”
“Your majesty is most kind,” Coryphaeus said, bowing low. “I am honored.”
“Bring the thing. See that it is not clumsy, yes?” Immanis said. “Care for it well, Legatus. Freakish or not, it was an unexpected gift,” he said, clarifying his earlier discarding of the leftover crew as generosity, rather than a lack of interest, “I imagine if you do, it may cause your life to be most interesting, when you least expect it.”
Coryphaeus found himself standing a bit taller, nodding sharply, ready to do whatever was necessary to impress the Prince with his command over and care of the red-headed gift he’d been so generously given. “Yes, your Majesty,” he whispered, and he turned and immediately took Jules’s arm, and walked her out of the audience chamber. He held her up, but rather than let it seem too kindly, he made a show of dominance, purely to keep the servants from whispering.
Attendants took them to the suites in which he would be staying, and gestured to Jules as they asked, “Shall we rest and feed it for you, Legatus?”
He eyed Jules for a long moment, pretending to consider it, and then said, “It is not used to this life yet and may not know how to behave for you; I would prefer it not embarrass me. I will keep it, for now.”
“Of course, Legatus,” the servants said, bowing, and left him to his devices.
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