Part 8: "Trade"
Story Rating: Hard R/NC-17
Story Warnings explicit heterosexual and homosexual sex, slavery, violence, torture and drug use.
Story Summary Since the death of their brother the Emperor Dolmus brought the royal brothers Valentin and Cassius back to Monsilys, capital of the great Jovani Empire, Valentin has cured the boredom of court life with poppy-sap and women, while for Cassius the remedy has been ale and the result much the same. Then an ill-fated duel causes their niece the Empress to send them to Gallica to deal with a problem there, and they find themselves drawn ever more back into the world of Jovani politics: a world their brother banished them from seventeen years earlier. As Valentin veers from disaster to disaster, always running from his past and a life he would prefer to forget, Cassius is fascinated by a damaged boy he rescues from a slave brothel. Valentin's weapon is sly diplomacy, while Cassius prefers the honesty of the sword, but will either be enough to protect Jovan, and themselves?
Notes: Volumes I and II are already written; you can check them out at my website (along with Vol III as it's written), as free eBooks (Volume I and Volume II) or I will be posting them here at a rate of one chapter a week, which means Livejournal will catch up to the website in around July/August 2013. I sincerely hope you enjoy the story. :)
“You were being so good,” said Cassius mournfully as they rode towards the great gates of Gatanis, capital of Baetica. “I thought the duelling phase was over after Gallica.”
“I admire your self-control, brother; I expected this lecture a fortnight ago.” Valentin rolled his shoulders.
“I was trying to think of the best way to express my chagrin,” said Cassius with dignity.
“Or the gates of Gatanis brought home to you the enormity of your situation? Hundreds of nubile, docile slave boys; however will you stop yourself from losing control and rescuing them en masse?”
Cassius sighed. “I shall have to find some way, I suppose.”
Well, the best Valentin could realistically hope for from Cassius being dragged to Baetica was that Cassius would keep his moping about Llewellyn to himself and avoid depressing Valentin as well. Cassius, was of course, far to addicted to his own misery to refrain entirely from lolling about the place like a dying duck in a thunder storm.
“I do so enjoy these trade missions. The spice route this time. Riveting.” Cassius stifled a yawn.
“Your enthusiasm is noted. Come on.” They entered the city gates with their escort and rode through town to the palace.
Behind him, Cassius said, “I don’t see why I couldn’t have gone to Ilouera and you to Gatanis. Why must we go everywhere together?”
“Because I’d miss you too much otherwise,” said Valentin, rolling his eyes.
Leaving their horses with a groom, they climbed the steps to the palace and were shown to the throne room. As they had been in Sha-Pensei and Merot, they were accompanied by guards and diplomats who were intended to do all the real work of negotiating, which would centre around duties levied on certain spices landed in Baetican ports en route to Jovan. Valentin was there merely to lend a sense of Imperial beneficence, and Cassius was there because, as he said, they were apparently a matched pair.
Valentin’s suite had a pretty little slave girl provided for his use. While she moved soundlessly over the tiled floor putting away his belongings, he lounged in a chair and stared out the window. In the throne room they had met the King and his plentiful, handsome offspring, both from his wife the Queen and from his various mistresses and slaves. Valentin looked closely at the two eldest princes: the crown prince was nineteen and his brother seventeen.
When Valentin had lived in Baetica they had been children, but both had grown into good natured boys. Bluff and simple, they enjoyed sport and hunting. Marrying the Empress of Jovan to the heir of Baetica would result in the unification of the crowns in the next generation, which neither country would desire, but even though he was some years younger than her, Valentin still thought the second prince was the best candidate for Emperor-Consort. As his wedding gift he would bring a strong northern ally against Merot and a nearby army to deter rebellion.
Adrienne’s response had so far been, “But he’s a baby; far too young to be marrying anyone, let alone me.”
Valentin yawned and stood up, going over to a beautifully carved secretaire in one corner and taking out a piece of paper on which he dashed off a short note to an old Baetican friend of his. Gesturing the slave girl over, he sealed the letter and sent her on her way.
After dinner, when they had all moved into a reception room and a little troupe of musicians had struck up in one corner, a man crossed the room and held out his arm to Valentin. “My lord,” he said, “how wonderful to see you in Baetica again.”
“You too, Vallaterras. You are well?”
“Hale and hearty. How are Lady Luvina and your boy?”
“My wife is well. Prince Felix grows apace and is not, I am told, an imbecile.” Valentin leaned back against a pillar and examined his tunic sleeve.
The Duke of Vallaterras ran his hand along his beard. “You Jovanis and your strange customs. Why is your boy a prince?”
“Because he is third in line for the throne,” said Valentin, “whereas I lost my coronet when Adrienne was born. It’s a silly old law that the heir to the Empire must always be the eldest in the line of succession. It’s supposed to guard against the constant menace posed by ambitious uncles.”
“But your brother is known outside Jovan as Prince Cassius?”
“A title he inherited through his mother, who is the Blue Princess of Caith’il Deran,” said Valentin. “Don’t worry too much about it, my friend; I know you prefer to look inward to Baetica.”
“I do,” said Vallaterras. He raised his eyebrows, “and I received your note. I will see what I can do, but the friend of whom you speak has no love for Jovanis.”
“His feelings may change when he hears what I have in mind. Hello Lord Petrucio, how are you?” Drawn into a series of light conversations with old acquaintances, Valentin didn’t have another chance to talk to the duke. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched with amusement as Cassius was approached and dragged into a dance formation by the daughter of Count Maltparras. He wasn’t sure which of them he pitied more.
Valentin fell in easily with his old crowd of dissolute young nobles and in the small hours, long after Cassius had fled to bed, they moved into a little salon, where slaves served them spiced, fortified wine and the semi-darkness hid a multitude of sins.
In the morning, Valentin was woken by his slave girl slipping out of the bed to begin her morning chores, but when he rolled over he discovered he was still sharing the bed with another, who he seemed to recall had been serving him wine some hours before. Smiling to himself, he shook her awake. She would have tasks that needed doing before her masters awoke, and he didn’t see why a night of indulgence with him should lead her to be whipped for neglecting her other duties.
As the girl climbed out of bed and hurried out the door, Valentin leaned back against the pillows and stretched. Blessed few, he loved Baetica.
After a light breakfast served on a tray by the slave girl, he rose and wandered through the hallways to the baths. Here he found one of his cronies from the previous night stepping into the hot bath with the same aura of rumpled smugness that Valentin had no doubt he emanated himself.
When he returned to his room, there was a brief note from Vallaterras on the mantelpiece, nominating a time and location for the meeting he had asked to be set up. By now, it was time for lunch, so he donned tunic and cloak and made his way to the hall.
“Good morning, brother,” said Cassius with an air of disapproval.
“You look well-rested,” said Valentin.
Cassius muttered something into his soup, and Valentin didn’t pursue the matter.
After lunch, they both sat in on the negotiations regarding the spice route, but Cassius escaped at the afternoon recess, no doubt to go in search of someone willing to have a sword swung at them.
The evening proceeded much as the previous night had done, but the next morning Valentin rose with the slave girl, bathed quickly, donned a neat, stylish tunic, and went out into the gardens. Tucked against the palace wall, at the back corner of the garden, was a little nook, circled by hedges and overhung by an old oak tree. Valentin was the first to arrive, so he leaned against the oak tree to wait.
Vallaterras arrived shortly after, with another man behind him This man was of a nondescript appearance which could be Baetican, Jovani or Skyan. He was short and his robes hung over an expanding gut. He eyed Valentin with cautious curiosity.
“Valentin, this is Ipni Bapany. Bapany, Lord Valentin Sylvanus.”
“Pleasure to meet you, my lord,” said Bapany. “I understand you are wishful to speak to me.”
“I am. I would like to invite you to stay with me in Monsilys. I come on behalf of my cousin, Lord Bracchus Platinus, who is desirous of making your acquaintance.”
“Bracchus Platinus,” echoed Bapany, eyes gleaming with interest. “He is a great supporter of my trade, I know.”
“He is.” Valentin crossed his arms over his chest.
“Is the case different in Jovan to what I had heard? The last time I spoke to your Empress, she was… well, as you know, she was not friendly. And I understand that now it would be even more dangerous for me to visit Monsilys.”
“The matter has been mishandled in the past,” said Valentin. “I can manage any danger, and I am hopeful of a positive outcome within the year.”
Bapany nodded. “I will think about your offer, Lord Valentin.”
“I appreciate it,” said Valentin, inclining his head.
Vallaterras nodded to Valentin and left with Bapany. Valentin leaned back against the oak tree and inhaled deeply a few times before he left the garden and went to find Cassius.
As he had suspected, Cassius was channelling his boredom and distaste at Baetican culture into pummelling some poor soldier in the barracks practice ring. He stopped when he saw Valentin and came over, resting his elbows against the wooden barrier that separated the ring from the yard.
“I think we have been here long enough to placate her Blessed Majesty,” said Valentin.
“Really?” said Cassius. “You think that your duel with that Ventus boy was a three-day offence?”
“You forget the fortnight of travel either way and the fact that I had to stop at Whitefields and be pleasant to Emillian, which was surely punishment enough on its own.”
“Hah.” Cassius pressed his lips together. “What about the spice trade?”
“It hardly needs my august presence to conclude the negotiations. We have served our purpose, sowing goodwill between royal families. Once they get down to brass tacks, I’ll only be in the way.”
“All right, but I’m leaving it to you to explain to Adrienne.” Cassius wiped the heel of his hand across his forehead.