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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Although the genre of fantasy, and this sub-genre of political fantasy, is a new one for me here on GA, I have been developing the world of Mulia in which this story takes place (and other stories in this world) for the best part of 20 years, so we are like old friends.

A link to the world map is included here, although I provide many descriptions in the story.


Stranded: Heart of Black Ice Bay - 17. Captive

Leonmarkh returns.

Author’s Note: Amid the craziness of the season and having finally managed to return to England, I have been trying to find the time to finish and offer up this chapter in time for Christmas Day - as promised. So here goes. However, I have not had a chance to run this past my amazing editor, Tim, so if you see any glaring errors, please private message me and let me know.

Even though Brathay turned away, the silhouette of Leonmarkh did not move. But he obeyed instantly and had pulled his hand away. For a long moment, he stood there, breathing and unspeaking, appearing to observe and appraise.

"I told you I did not think you should go," Brathay whispered eventually.

After a deep sigh, Leonmarkh knelt down in front of Brathay and, following another pause, rested a warm hand on each of Brathay's knees. Despite the calming gesture, Brathay refused to look him in the eye.

"I know, and I realise my apologies are inadequate. But I still believe I did the right thing in meeting Nhomakh. And how could I know that someone among us would commit something this atrocious and then coldly shift the blame to you? I sense the cruel hand of my uncle in this deed."

"They talked of a hanging."

"Nobody is going to touch you, Brathay. Not while I still am still breathing. You are innocent of this crime, are you not?"

"I am but…will there be a trial?"

"Not if doing so pains you. Listen to me, Brathay. Just say the word, and I will lay out the evidence of your innocence in front of my captains right now and this ordeal will be over. But, Brathay, do you not think we need this trial? I am convinced doing so will force this fiend or fiends into the light. They think they have us caught in their trap, but they underestimate our resourcefulness. And they have no notion of what I have discovered."

"Neither do I," said Brathay, finally turning to the shadowed face. "What have you found?"

"All in good time," said Leonmarkh, standing up and offering his hand. "Now, will you come with me? I feel you need some care and attention."

"Am I not to stay a prisoner in here?"

"You are not a prisoner. Think of yourself as my guest. But to anyone else, you are being held in my chambers until we can hold a trial, and there are two guards permanently posted outside my door. I have instructed them only to disturb me if they are called upon, or if I have visitors. If that happens, you may need to retire to this room. But the thickness of these walls means you will hear everything that is spoken. Right now, however, there is something I need you to do for us both."

"I must reek," said Brathay, rising from the chair.

"I cannot lie," said Leonmarkh, backing out of the anteroom, an affectionate smile on his face. "You have smelled better. Which is why I ask you to come with me."

As soon as he stepped into the well-lit chamber, Brathay noticed immediately that something had changed in Leon's face. His skin glowed with health, and he looked good in a long silk robe, his long, dark hair tied back in the traditional Braggadachi style. But the constant weighing down of his brow, the strained expression that appeared to be doubt or the man second-guessing himself, had vanished. Over the past few days, something had happened to him to smooth away his uncertainties. His innate strength and surety had not diminished, the newfound truth appearing to elevate Leon in stature and, in Brathay's eyes, make him even more attractive.

"I am sorry, too, that you have been left alone in my chamber for so long," said Leonmarkh, waiting for Brathay to rise and join him. "But in my defence I have been diverting a minor mutiny among my captains. Your arrest has fractured their usual cohesion."

"I can imagine. Although, Ligger surprised me with his support."

"Ligger is, by nature, a simple but suspicious man. He comes from a standpoint of mistrusting everyone and everything. Unlike me, his rude welcome upon your arrival was authentic. He did not want you here. And you must have noticed his mistrust of the keep mechanism or anything he does not understand. But once he warms to you, Brathay—and he has warmed to you—heaven help anyone who tries to harm you."

Brathay trailed after Leon through the room, but they did not stop at the fireplace where a large fire burned but had little effect on the warmth of the room, or his desk housing a large basket covered in a white cloth but moved into a steamy, partitioned area at the end of the room. Leonmarkh halted and turned to face Brathay at a small, oblong pool filled with misty water topped with white froth. Odours Brathay vaguely recognised as eucalyptus and mint filled the humid air. A basic construction of granite, the bath constantly filled—and presumably emptied—from somewhere beneath the surface because no faucets were visible.

"Another boon of the snow-fire crystals is that I am finally able to use this sunken bath with hot running water. Can I suggest you leave your clothes on and step into the depths. All the way in. Fleming gifted me with some oils and salts that I have added to the bathwater, to help you relax and also to help with the odour in your clothes. Once you are ready, remove them and place them on the side. There is a cleanser for your skin, and a herbal paste for your mouth and teeth."

"You wish me to bathe for you?"

"For yourself, but only if you wish it. However, I promise you will feel much better."

"And smell sweeter?"

"That, too," said Leonmarkh, grinning.

"Once again, here you are asking me to undress for you," said Brathay, smiling faintly before bending down, untying, and slipping off his boots.

Leonmarkh smiled back and, much to Brathay's delight, even flushed a little, lost for a response.

"Do you not wish to join me, Leon?"

Leon's stare became dark and more focused, the kind of fire Brathay had witnessed in others many times, and he felt equally aroused seeing Leon's reaction.

"I did not want to be presumptuous. Besides, I already bathed today in one of the two remaining hot pools in the village caves. But I will tell you more of that later. When you feel you have cleansed them sufficiently, leave your clothes on the side of the bath and I will set them to dry. In the meantime, I will fetch a clean towel and a robe for you to wear, and arrange food on my table for you."

Still smiling, Leon faltered a second before he left the room. Brathay felt sure he was on the verge of changing his mind and joining him in the bath. Privately, Brathay felt grateful to be alone, wanted to remove two days of grime and stench from himself without another person present. He took a tentative step into the water, his foot finding purchase on a ledge leading into the depths. Although not as hot as the springs, the water smelled much better, and the sensation was the same as the cave spring—warming and healing. After a few moments of soaking, he scrubbed his clothes fiercely before removing them and feeling instantly weightless in the water. As instructed, he left them at the side of the bath and set about washing his skin with the sea sponge left for him. After a few moments, he heard Leon's voice behind him.

"How are you feeling?"

"Renewed. I think I may be overcoming my fear of water."

"This is hardly the same as deep and freezing lake water, but I suppose it is a start."

Brathay noticed Leon staring at his neck.

"Did your token come to life in the cell?"

Brathay reached a hand up to touch his talisman. He had not even considered the notion.

"No. I still have no idea what triggers its power."

"Then perhaps you are not meant to. Fleming wanted to send a messenger bird to Aulderly about the markings but the weather is too unpredictable at the moment. And does not look to be getting better any time soon. When you are ready, sit on the ledge with your back against this end. I will wash your hair for you."

"Leon, you do not need—"

"I want to. I meant what I said. I want to make things up to you, Brathay. Come."

Brathay had forgotten the simple pleasure of having another person's touch. The last time had been Dnan wiping his body down with a cloth in the hot springs which felt like an age ago. Leon sat behind Brathay, his bare feet in the water on either side, gently massaging a cleansing balm into Brathay's scalp.

"You visited the hot springs," said Brathay, to try to divert his mind from the stimulating touch.

"A privilege you experienced before me, according to Fleming. Only two pools are still operational and even those are not as warm as when you visited, I am told. The main source has almost frozen over. Two villagers remain behind to light fires and try to keep the water flowing. Still, I found the experience renewing, to borrow an expression of yours."

"You seem different, Leon. Calmer."

Behind him, Leon stopped moving his hands, rested his forehead on the back of Brathay's head and chuckled softly.

"You, of all people, would notice," he said before resuming the slow, circular movements in Brathay's scalp. "But yes, I have found my peace, have experienced a true Rebirth. You were right about trusting Fleming. After I told him my tale, he gave me sage advice. And he counselled me to take care of you, said you are special. But he also warned that we should not let our guards down, said he feels this snake—whoever the person or persons are—may be ready to strike."

After Brathay's experience of the past few days, the warning made perfect sense. But something else had caught his attention.

"He said I was special?"

"Fleming talked long about you. Strange things happen around you without any bidding. Most of his peers at the institute believe you to be the unremarkable son of a Thiradonian army officer, intelligent enough but unambitious, a status that has served to keep you from the sights of those who might be in a position to exploit you. Fleming said only the one called Brokerman saw more in you, which is why he alerted Fleming to watch over you. You see, there is much unanswered about your origins, things not even you know. He also believes our fates are somehow entwined."

"Does he?"

"As do I," said Leon, finishing with a flourish and standing. As Brathay sat there watching, he moved to one wall, slid a tile aside, and turned a hidden valve. "Come. The water will begin to drain now. Rinse your hair, then dry yourself at the edge of the room where your clothes are hanging. I am going to lay out food and hot soup for you. I am sure you are hungry. Even though word about your arrest has circulated, Mrs Sturridge insisted I share my special meal with you. We can eat together at my desk."

Brathay smiled when he reached the room's border. Warm air rising from the ground vents aided his efforts to dry himself, an experience entirely comforting. He even managed to use his fingers to dry and comb his hair into a semblance of presentable. Donning and tying the robe, he made his way to the desk now lit by an ornate iron candelabra housing five candles.

As he approached, Leon looked up and smiled his approval.

"How do you feel?"

"Alive again, thank you. What is this?"

As Brathay sat down opposite Leon, his mouth watered at the assortment of food set out before him. Leon's desk contained bowls of dark broth and white rice, assorted fruit, a large block of cheese, and Marietta's sweet bread rolls and a small jar of conserved fruit. Leonmarkh even had a jug of his special mead and two cups ready.

"You are making captivity hard to resist, Leon."

"This is no more than you deserve," said Leon, placing a bowl of broth in front of Brathay. "But the food has improved beyond measure largely thanks to the villagers and Marietta. Mrs Sturridge tells me the broth contains fish and seaweed, perfect to help a recovering patient."

"Who was never ill."

Leon laughed while Brathay sipped the soup. Even the smell had his stomach groaning aloud. He ate without speaking until the bowl had been drained.

"Good?" asked Leon, grinning at him.

"The best meal I have ever tasted. And I include my own creations in that. Although if I am perfectly honest, stale bread and hard cheese would have tasted delicious right now."

At the end of the meal, Brathay sat back sated, finishing off the meal with a sweet bread roll smothered in Marietta's preserve and draining his cup of mead.

"Are you ready to tell me what you found out from this banished soldier?"

As Leon refilled Brathay's cup, he let out a deep sigh.

"I wonder if other soldiers would be as loyal as Nhomakh had I treated them as badly. With time to reflect at Fleming's house, he remembered an incident when he stumbled upon one of the house staff on the level beneath the keep, rolling a small keg of ale towards the northwestern tower. At the time he thought nothing of it—house staff came for supplies all the time—but the person in question appeared surprised and was quite rude when he asked if he could help. "

"Millflower," said Brathay, thinking briefly about Marietta's words of caution, about how much to tell Leon, and deciding there and then that whatever he knew, he would tell Leon.

"You already know? Yes, and because that particular tower goes up to my chambers, he assumed she was bringing the goods to me. Now, of course, he wonders if she had been the true thief."

"Which she clearly was," said Brathay, before taking another gulp of the sweet but warming draught. "The question is, how on earth did she smuggle those supplies out of the keep without the guards noticing? She must have had someone to help her."

"There is a hidden passage in and out of the keep," said Leon. "As I said, I have learned a lot during my time away. Nhomakh believes a passage leads from the keep almost down to the village seafront. He visited the tavern a couple of times and discovered where the trade took place. He had to buy Joxi, the innkeeper, numerous ales to get them talking, but once he did they spilled everything. They had been very happy with the business until they learned about the unjust punishment. Before the blizzards, Nhomakh spent a few days searching the area Joxi mentioned, until he stumbled upon a hastily disguised cave housing a locked iron door directly beneath the keep."

"Nhomakh has learnt the local language? You say he conversed with the innkeeper."

"Not Nhomakh. Joxi speaks the common tongue better than any other of the Sjin-Shatir. They just prefer not to converse fluently to visiting guests. You can imagine the nights they have had to deal with drunken soldiers. Joxi found letting those particular keep residents believe they only understood a few words to be advantageous. But Joxi and I have had many a lively and entertaining conversation when I visited the tavern. "

Brathay smiled even though he felt a twinge of jealousy. "Your visits to the pleasure givers?"

"For a few hours only, and entailing a hot bath, a haircut and a few cups of local ale. I, too, have never had the need for—"

"Is that why Joxi did not speak to the captains at the shoreline when they examined Millflower's body? Is that why they let Mjaj translate?"

Brathay remembered Marietta saying she had spoken to the innkeeper but in Mjaj's presence. He had automatically assumed that Mjaj had translated for them.

"I was not there, but I imagine so. Fleming told me Joxi is not proud of the trouble the trade caused, however innocently. But Brathay, there is more. Joxi is not a particularly trusting person, so whenever they receive empire coin in payment, they place an indelible mark on the larger denomination like empire crowns, a small red mark on the bottom rim of every one. And they traded with Millflower using those coins. We can prove Millflower's culpability and Nhomakh's innocence if we can find her payment."

"That still does not help find the killer."

"Unless the killer shared in the spoils, which is highly likely, in which case they will also have marked coins. I am more concerned about what other secrets this building holds of which we are ignorant—?"

Brathay jumped up, almost locking his bowl over.

"I need to show you something. While I have been incarcerated I have been doing some very useful research. Give me a second."

Brathay collected the notebook from the anteroom, eager to show Leon the moving illustrations. He returned to the table and shifted his stool to sit next to Leon, but indecipherable characters in dark ink met his eye when he opened the book. No shimmering mark appeared at the top right of the page, no moving parts to the keep schematics.

"I do not understand. In the cell, I found a symbol here on each page." Brathay turned over a couple of pages, but the figures remained inanimate, and no mark showed. Searching for inspiration, he stared around Leon's chamber. "No, wait a second. Perhaps we need less light. Can we take the candles away?"

Leon did as requested, and Brathay watched as he took the candelabra to a ledge by his bed. When he turned to make his way back, Brathay stared down at the page and waited. Although light from the fire still shone, the symbol faded into view.

"Can you see a mark?" asked Brathay, holding up the notebook page as Leon sat next to him.

"Yes, I see. Like a smudge of sunlight. Show me what you have found."

"No, I want to see if you can make this happen. Touch the symbol with a finger."

Brathay had wondered if only he could make the moving diagrams work, but as soon as Leon placed his fingertip over the mark, orange moving parts sprang into action.

"I am not certain, but I think there is a connection between the crystals and the notebook. When I passed the snow-fire device on the way to my cell, I felt the book become cold and pulse against my leg."

Brathay guided a quietly fascinated Leon through the book, pointing out the three stages of the rotary machine and the system of water flowing through the keep. Leon eventually turned to the double page with the inked schematics that bore no symbol.

"What about this page?" asked Leon.

"There is nothing here," said Brathay. "See, there is no mark on this page."

"What about here, at the bottom of the page."

Leon was right. How had Brathay had missed the spot? Maybe his focus had been on the top right of each page. Maybe his blanket had covered the area on the bottom left of the double pages. But as Leon touched the spot, working winches appeared on the ramparts of the sea-facing wall, lifting hooks up from the ocean below.

Then, a door began to draw itself beside the northwestern tower entrance on the floor below the courtyard. As they watched, the route sank lower outside the walls, descending through caves towards the seafront. Millflower's secret doorway in and out of the keep.

"And there is the passageway. Did you not see this before?" asked Leon.

"No, I missed the mark on this page. And the exit is not shown on any other. This must be what Nhomakh found. If only you had known about this before performing your elaborate plan to visit Nhomakh. Although you would not have got far without the gate key. I wonder who else knows about this? Millflower's accomplice, I suppose, if she had one. But this provides a perfect route, unseen by guards from the ramparts and the gatehouse."

Brathay turned to look at Leon's outline and could see the worry lines had returned to his brow.

"This poses a serious threat. What use are gatehouse guards if someone can circumvent our defences by entering and exiting the keep unseen and unheeded. I will need this passageway blocked."

"Would snow drifts not have made this unusable by now?"

"For now, Brathay. But when the snows thaw? No, I need the way barricaded from inside and I need to ensure everyone knows this has been done."

"But before you do that, should we not check the route? Maybe Millflower left some evidence of her coming and going, even some goods ready to trade. Marietta will need that kind of proof for my trial."

"You will go along with the trial, then?"

"If that is what you wish—"

"No, Brathay. Is it what you wish?"

Brathay had already felt a fire building inside him. Whoever had purposely incriminated him to people he had begun to like and trust, and more importantly, to harm Leon, needed to be shown cold justice. Leon had been right. The person or persons could not possibly know what he and Leon had discovered and would surely be tempted to feel they had the upper hand.

And over-confident people made bold gestures and big mistakes.

"Yes. I want this trial."

Leon smiled. "So do I. It is well overdue for us to set a few wrongs to right. But I am going to cut off the passageway after an investigation. I will find another way to explain how I stumbled—"

"Moonskulls!" said Brathay. "Tell them you only noticed the passage due to the light now flooding the lower floor. And Leon, look at this."

Brathay flipped to the page showing the Watchman's chamber. This time, he placed his own finger over the symbol and waited until the Watchman's room began to animate.

"Do you see the lines appearing behind your bookcase?"

Leon hiked in a breath before looking astonished at the bookshelves in his room.

"A secret stairway in here? I knew there had to be more to the keep, but right behind me all this time, here in this room?"

"Why not? Maybe previous Watchman needed the security of knowing they could escape in the event of an attack. Should we investigate—?"

Leon had already stood and moved to collect the candelabra from the bed. Once they had more light, Leon began to check the shelves, and Brathay, the frame. Brathay found a small iron lock to the structure's right side, cut into a recess in the wood. After unlatching, nothing happened. Leon was the one to place his shoulder against the frame and push. With some effort, the bookcase began to move inwards on a pivot, accompanied by a rush of stagnant air, undisturbed dust and old cobwebs.

"Nobody has used this route in centuries," said Leon, staring into the gloom.

"We should go down. This may yet prove useful," said Brathay, peering up at the roughly hewn ceiling. When he turned around, Leon was already plucking the candelabra from the desk.

"Follow me."

Cold air filled the narrow passage, a spiral staircase descending one floor. Roughly carved and with uneven steps, little attention to detail had been squandered on the design. While Leon either burned or swatted aside the cobwebs, disturbed dust from their footfalls irritated Brathay's nose, but he placed a hand across his face to refrain from sneezing. At the bottom of the steps, Leon stopped at a solid granite wall with a visible iron latch. When he slipped open the lock and pushed, a crack of powdery light bled through from outside, outlining the granite door.

"Should we venture out?" whispered Brathay, then stifling a yawn of tiredness, "We could investigate the other passageway, if you wish."

"Not tonight," said Leon, smiling at him before pulling the door closed and resetting the latch. "Enough for one night. But I agree, this find will serve us well. For now, I would prefer we keep the discovery between the two of us. And I include Marietta in that."


"Then let us head back to our room."

Due to the narrow way, Brathay went first, with Leon holding the candles aloft to give him light. Once in the room, Leon closed the bookcase with a satisfying clunk and placed the candles back on the table.

"Are there any other surprises in that book?" asked Leon, washing his hands in a bowl of water on the table and drying them on a strip of cloth.

"You have seen everything that I discovered. And more."

"Let us not dwell on anything else right now. I think we both need sleep. Come."

Once again, Leon led the way back across towards the anteroom. Brathay walked close behind, admiring the easy gait of the man, the strength across his shoulder and the fluidity of his body. So engrossed was he in Leon's figure and movement that he almost walked into his back when Leon stopped at his own four-poster.

"You will take this bed tonight," said Leon, pulling back the bedclothes. "I will take the single bunk in the small room. You deserve comfort after your ordeal."

"You have done enough already, Leon. And in case I had not stated so directly, you are forgiven."

Leon smiled and nodded. "Nevertheless, it would make me happy if you slept here."

Brathay eyed the mattress carefully, a thought coming to him.

"Can we not both take the bed?" asked Brathay. "It is large enough."

"I would not object," said Leon, staring hesitantly down at the bedcovers. "But are you sure?"

Brathay moved in front of Leon and placed the palm of one hand on his cheek. "You shaved."

"This morning. In the warm springs. Do you not like it?"

"I like it very much. But now I must look like an outcast by comparison."

"You could never look like an outcast." Leon took Brathay's hand, kissed the palm, and then pulled his face away. "Your fingers smell of lime."

"Marietta's jam. They may still be a little sticky. Who would have guessed I would discover a new addiction here in Black Ice Keep?"

"Or I," said Leon, staring at Brathay. "Do you really want me to lie with you tonight?"

"Do not make me beg, Leon."

Leon laughed gently before sucking Brathay's thumb deep into his mouth and releasing it with a wet pop.

"Do you remember your parting words to me at our first formal meeting? That I should be the one begging?"

Brathay laughed and felt a rush of affection when Leon sucked on each of his other fingers. He had let the man get past his defences and under his skin, but he no longer cared. After pulling his hand away, he wrapped both arms around Leon's neck before bringing their mouths together. Taken by surprise, Leon's eyes went wide as he sucked in a breath and met Brathay's embrace.

In his short life, Brathay had kissed a lot of men and women. Most of the time, the action had been out of academic curiosity. Kissing Leon felt at the same time familiar and new, their lips fitting perfectly, the pressure of soft and pliant lips both gentle and hungry. When Leon opened his mouth to probe his tongue deep into Brathay's mouth, all rational thought dissolved.

Lost in the kiss, Brathay barely registered Leon's hand, smoothing down his back then moving around his waist to unfasten his robe. When Leon cupped his balls in his hand and squeezed gently, Brathay released a soft moan.

"I have wanted this for too long," Leon murmured in his ear, wrapping his hand around Brathay's growing shaft bringing their mouths back together again. Brathay pushed into the kiss and slid his cock eagerly in the firm grip. Leon growled in response and grabbed a handful of Brathay's hair, pulling this head back and kissing along his neck.

Dark desire burned in his eyes when Leon pulled away as they trailed down Brathay's body. Using the thumbs of each hand, he slipped the robe from Brathay's shoulders, allowing the material to pool around his bare feet. Instantly, he did the same to his own until they both stood naked. When Leon's warm, calloused hands made contact with Brathay's chest, he tried to control his body, but each touch tingled with pleasure, creating gooseflesh along his skin, making him wince and gasp softly, a sound fuelling Leon's amorous fire.

Leon lifted Brathay from the floor and pushed him back onto the soft bedding. Without waiting for a response, he pulled Brathay's knees apart and lowered his head into Brathay's groin. Brathay tipped his head back, switched off his critical brain, and surrendered to the hungry sensations Leon had clearly been aching to mete out on his body. Fingertip touches and soft kisses became firmer and more urgent until a hot mouth enveloped him, and mysteriously oiled fingers began to probe inside him. Many moments later, on one of the occasions Brathay craned his head up to watch, Leon brought his mouth away from Brathay's shaft and grinned up at him.

"During the sessions staged for my uncle, I mastered much. Not every bout was torturous."

"You had no need to put that into words, Leon. I already—aaaah…."

Leon had grasped and licked Brathay's shaft from stem to tip before swallowing him again, as two fingers of the other hand worked a sensitive spot inside him, firmly and confidently, stretching and smoothing and eliciting constant ripples of pleasure.

"If I ever—oh yes, there, just there—get the chance to meet your uncle—mmm, yes…faster—I will be sure to thank him...aaah, yesss—just before I—ngggaahhh—"

Brathay pulled a bed cushion into his own face and let out a strangled groan of ecstasy—hoping not to alert the guards—releasing spasm after spasm of hot seed into Leon's mouth. As soon as stars stopped bursting behind his eyelids, he yanked the pillow away and stared down at a wide-eyed, sated, and grinning Leon.

"—remove his head."

Leon grinned with happiness before climbing onto the bed and lying alongside Brathay. In a gesture of heart-stopping tenderness, he raised Brathay's head and used the crook of his arm as a pillow. Lying on his side against Brathay's body, he draped a protective arm around his midriff. Leon's sensual body smell and warm breath threatened to lull him into a post-coital slumber. Only Leon's hot and hard cock pressing against his thigh kept him from submitting.

"Earlier, you mentioned the weather beyond the keep. Is it bad?"

"Terrible, Brathay, and deteriorating daily. Much of the village is snowbound. Fleming believes this cold spell may go on for another two or three months."

"Two or three months in captivity with you, enduring this kind of torture. How will I survive?"

Leon chuckled gently before turning to Brathay. "Perhaps we should sleep now."

"Sleep?" said Brathay, darting up from the pillow and staring hard at Leon. "I am not that kind of lover. Remember the bedroom chamber is my domain, where I am at my most comfortable. Now that you have shared your mastery with me, I am honour bound to repay the debt. I admit to being a little spent thanks to your efforts, but I am happy to do whatever you want including taking to the reins and ploughing, if that is your preference?"

Leon closed his eyes, a pained smile on his lips.

"One day I would like nothing more than to let you pleasure me that way, Brathay. But after my past experiences, my body and mind are not fully ready to accept that kind of invasion."

Brathay placed his fingers on Leon's chin and rubbed his thumb across Leon's bottom lip, watching the eyes flutter back open.

"I am sorry. I forgot. I should not have suggested—"

"No, no," said Leon, taking his hand and kissing the fingers. "I should be the one to apologise, and one day I hope we can overcome that obstacle. But not tonight. Perhaps there are other things we could do—"

Brathay leant over Leon and kissed him before bringing his face away.

"Many things. But how would you feel if I give myself to you?"

"Brathay, I do not want to hurt you on our first—"

Brathay smirked and pecked another kiss on Leon's lips before moving his hand down to wrap his fingers around the thick shaft of Leon's arousal.

"I know you are larger than most, but you cannot hurt me. Moreover, I know I will enjoy having you as much as you will enjoy me. And I would cherish the chance to feel you inside me."

"You want this?"

"Like you, I have wanted you for a long time. Now where is that oil you have been hiding?"

** ❄︎ **

Over the weeks that followed, Brathay had never felt as secure and cosseted in his life. If confinement made him restless and irritable during the day and amplified his yearning to be outdoors to exercise and let off steam, nighttime activities allowed him to exert and expend himself unrestrained. Many nights, after Leon had spoken to the guards, locked the doors and released Brathay from his sub-chamber, that second of non-confinement had been like an aphrodisiac, and their prolonged lovemaking had superseded any immediate need for food.

While both lay back, panting, Leon often gave Brathay daily reports about life in the keep and moreover about the extreme weather climes. Alternating icy offshore winds, wild snow blizzards, and occasional days of respite comprising fragile sunlight and foreboding became the norm. The only constant in each day was the snow-fire mechanism which kept the inhabitants of the keep from freezing to death. Leon told him that he had found the passage down to the seafront. A simple lock similar to the one from his chamber allowed the granite wall to swing open. After investigating, he had left the door slightly ajar and placed a pallet in front. Then, on an inspection of the snow-fire mechanism with his captains and Khraxwall, Leon had told Brathay how they had discovered the exit. Zhorman had immediately arranged for the passageway to be blocked up, work that Leon and the other captains had inspected to their satisfaction.

From time to time during the day, when Leon went about other matters, Marietta came to see Brathay, to update him on progress. They had a solid case. Mollik agreed to testify to Brathay's whereabouts on the night of Millflower's disappearance; the village innkeeper would bear witness to the illegal trader being Millflower. Haycock would present the case against him, something about which Marietta felt very happy. She considered him inept and lacking intelligence and said that everything he had was circumstantial or unproven and felt confident she could outsmart him.

Brathay was not so sure.

Almost ten weeks to the day, guards announced the arrival of Zhorman at Leon's chambers, and Brathay locked himself away into the small room. He knew the weather had begun to improve, the severe ice storms now abated, and even reports of warmer weather melting ice and snow.

"Leonmarkh. The villagers are returning to their lodgings today and tomorrow. And over the past few days, I have had soldiers assisting with clearing and preparations. All arrangements have been made and we are now ready."

"Ready?" came Leon's voice. But Brathay knew Zhorman's next words before they had even been spoken.

"Ready for the trial of the apprentice."

Seasons greetings and thank you for reading.

Any reactions, comments, observations, interpretations, or guesses at what you think is to come, gratefully received.

And if you are feeling generous, go to the Black Ice Bay summary page and click on the Recommend button, so that others may be tempted to read the story.

Copyright © 2021 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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That you very much for reading.

Any reactions, comments or observations are very much appreciated.

Let me know what would you think will happen next, or what you like to see happen.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I love the comments and also believe like others that the trial will reveal many new surprises.  Great chapter now that Leon and Brat have demonstrated their attraction to each other. 

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I expect the trial will have some surprises and not all of them will be favorable to B's defence. 

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