Copyright © 2013 Mychael Black
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Sorien arrived a short time ago. He’s looking forward to serving you as an advisor.”
Vanya sighed. “I suppose running away is not an option.”
Micheil chuckled and opened the throne room doors. “Not a chance.”
Several of the former queen’s advisors turned to face Micheil and their new queen. Lerian’s treachery had shocked many, none more so than those who worked directly for her. After Kalen had Lerian imprisoned, Micheil had tested the others through the use of magic. In return for their loyalty to their people over Lerian, Micheil compensated each of them well. Now they awaited orders once more.
“It is a pleasure, Your Highness.” Sorien descended the dais steps, dressed in the gold-and-dark-purple garb of Chief Advisor. He bowed to Vanya. “I regret we’ve not had time to speak much with one another, but I am at your service.”
Vanya smiled, the expression more genuine than any Micheil had ever seen on her. “Thank you, Sorien.”
Micheil glanced in another direction the moment he noticed a slight blush tinting Vanya’s cheeks. He hadn’t expected her to react to Sorien’s charms, but then again, Sorien was unique. Thank the gods elves held no protocol on relationships between royalty and non-royalty. Micheil never quite understood the whole human notion surrounding it, but to each his own, he supposed. His sister and the human prince Andreas were proof enough that love could surpass social class.
“Gentlemen, if you will excuse us,” Sorien said to the advisors. “I have much to discuss with the queen and the Guild Master.”
The advisors left them, each bowing to Vanya before disappearing out a side door. Vanya dropped into her new throne and squirmed as if she couldn’t get comfortable. Sorien surprised Micheil by drawing a chair to him with a lift of his hand.
“You’ve been practicing.”
Sorien shrugged. “I’ve had good reason to, especially now that I’m allowed back into Seriete. Your return has been…a blessing, to be honest.” He sat down, and Micheil sat as well.
“Has anyone given you trouble?” Micheil asked.
“Beyond a few curious, if not wary, glances? No.”
Micheil nodded. Sorien had never been popular, both because of his eccentricities and for his tutelage under Micheil’s long-deceased mother. Elves, while more willing to embrace magic than humans, still looked on blatant displays with a touch of fear. Rightly so, Micheil figured, but since he’d returned to Seriete and taken his place once again as Master of the Guilds, the collective of the elven schools of magic, people were starting to accept magic—and Sorien—more than they had in the past.
“Permission to speak freely, Your Highness?”
Vanya glared at him. “You know better than that, Sorien.”
Sorien raised his hands in defense. “I saw your welcome to the general upon our arrival at the Pass. I’m not making any assumptions with a woman who fires arrows.”
“Point taken.” Vanya laughed. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well, namely your coronation.”
Vanya sank even farther into the throne, cursing under her breath. “Do we have to?”
“The people are going to want—and need—to see their new queen,” Micheil said.
Sorien reached out and touched Vanya’s hand where it rested on the arm of the throne. After a few seconds, their fingers entwined. “You won’t be alone. I’m not going to leave you to the vultures.”
For a moment, Micheil watched them in silence. He’d been bombarded with questions from Sorien about her, but he never expected Vanya to return the interest. Despite their differences, they made a good, strong couple. Between Sorien’s magic and knowledge of court politics, and Vanya’s no-nonsense attitude, he knew the two of them would do Seriete and their people proud.
“Thank you. When is the coronation, and what do I have to do?”
“I’ve begun preparations,” Sorien said. “We have two weeks to ready everything on your end—wardrobe, speech, that sort of thing.”
“Speech?” Vanya’s eyes widened. “I have to give a speech?”
“Just a short one, I promise.” Sorien laughed. “I’ll even write it for you.”
She relaxed visibly. “All right. Just don’t make me sound like an idiot.”
“Never, Your Highness.”
The next morning, Micheil found Vanya and Sorien already in the throne room. Vanya seemed a little more at ease, but Micheil had a feeling it was due more to a good night’s sleep than anything else. He joined them, taking his place near the throne.
“We need to secure the borders,” Vanya said. “I don’t know what Lerian managed to work out with the lithings, but the last ones have been driven away. We can’t afford any more incursions.”
“Do we have any word from the general?” Sorien asked.
“Not—” The throne room doors opened, and Vanya glanced up. “This doesn’t bode well.”
Micheil turned, shock holding him momentarily still. Judging by Kalen’s grim expression, Micheil had a feeling the general had pushed his horse hard to reach Seriete so fast. “What’s wrong?”
“Word arrived at the Pass from Andrion. Sherie is missing.”
“What?” Micheil stood. “Do they have any witnesses?”
“No. It’s why we’ve been summoned back to Akuron Heights.”
“Who’s Sherie?” Vanya asked.
“Princess Sherie is the daughter of the human king, Andrion,” Sorien explained. “She’s been obsessed with Micheil for years and has recently come under our scrutiny for arranging a possible contract for Kalen’s death.”
“Is she really that stupid?”
“Enough to trust lithings,” Kalen answered. “Either way, Micheil and I have to return to Akuron Heights, no doubt to lead a search party.”
“Don’t envy you that.”
“It beats leading a whole country.”
Vanya didn’t look particularly amused. “When will you be back?”
“I have no idea.” Kalen sighed. “I have a bad feeling about the whole thing.”
“Better you than me.” Vanya stood, Sorien’s hand still clasped in hers. “Come on, Sorien. Let’s get this coronation stuff over with. I have new archers to train.”
She led Sorien out of the room, leaving Micheil and Kalen alone. Micheil chuckled when he noticed Kalen staring after them.
“Don’t ask. Suffice it to say, I have the feeling heirs won’t be an issue.”
Kalen shook his head. “Him? I knew. But her?”
“Sorien has his own brand of charm. I’ve seen him work others with it many times, but never as openly as this.”
“He must have taken lessons from you, then.” Kalen turned to Micheil, pulling him close. Emerald eyes held Micheil spellbound. “The ride from the Pass wasn’t quite the same without you in front of me.”
Micheil shivered. He distinctly remembered the one time they’d made the trek on his horse—together. Despite the troubles looming, he felt himself growing hard at the memory. Kalen’s fingers threaded through Micheil’s long golden hair, and Micheil let the general pull his head back for a kiss. Kalen smelled like the dust of the road, like leather and metal and male all wrapped into one muscular, chain-mail-bound package.
“You must have run the poor horse ragged,” Micheil muttered between kisses.
Kalen smiled against Micheil’s mouth. “I had good reason.”
“Do we have to leave right now?”
Kalen tipped Micheil’s head farther, lips blazing a trail along the arch of Micheil’s throat. “No.” A nip followed, then Kalen drew back. “I need food, bed and you.”
“Not in that order, I hope.”
“Feasting on you is my top priority, sorcerer. It’s been a week since I’ve touched you.”
Micheil groaned and started backward, trusting Kalen to guide him. They reached the side door Vanya and Sorien had taken; then Micheil led the way to their own chambers. Vanya had the queen’s chambers now, which left the king’s rooms—not used in countless ages—for Micheil and Kalen. Once inside, Kalen pressed Micheil to the wooden door.
Kalen gripped Micheil’s wrists and pinned them above their heads, holding him in place. The kiss began soft and slow, their tongues sliding over one another, unhurried. Micheil drowned in the sensations of Kalen’s mouth on his, of the man’s body against his own. Where he had always been lithe and slender, Kalen was nothing but pure muscle. Although Kalen stole his breath every time the general took him inside, Micheil loved feeling the man deep within him as well. He relished the touches from Kalen’s battle-roughened hands, and this time was no different.
Those hands released Micheil’s wrists and drifted down his arms, his torso, finally to rest on his waist. Kalen’s cock pushed insistently against Micheil’s through their clothing.
“How do you want me?”
“In me,” Micheil whispered, head tipping to allow Kalen room to kiss his neck. “Please, Kalen.”