A/N: Hum, hum, hum. I think we're off to a good start. I think I'll continue.
Chapter Two: Any Good Officer
The battle ended in victory for the Rumen. Valerian didn't pay much attention to the story he was told as he trudged up the steps of the newly acquired palace. Something along the lines of Nonde's older brother, Linedain, showing up with his troops and saving the day. That sounded just like something Linedain would do. Wait until things had gone completely awry before swooping in to sort it all out most heroically. He always managed to do things in a way that made him a hero and everyone else failures. Valerian kind of hated Linedain. But the feeling wasn't mutual. Not at all. The moment Valerian passed through the doors of the palace, which had of course been cleared of all enemy forces, Linedain was there, his strong hands cupping Valerian's face as he stared down into the young officer's eyes with deep concern.
"Valerian, thank the stars you're safe," Linedain said. "When Nonde told me what happened to you I immediately sent him to go look for you while I tidied up at the battlefield."
Valerian felt smothered by the overwhelming sincerity in Linedain's tone. He almost wanted to gag. "Um…thank you, my lord. For coming to help us out…" he mumbled, pushing down on Linedain's arms to free his face.
"I hear that we have you to thank for keeping my brother alive until I arrived," Linedain went on. "I'll see to it that you're rewarded richly. But we'll talk about that later. I had some servants run a hot bath for you. Go and warm up before you catch your death."
"Don't worry about the rich reward. Nonde's already throwing me a party, so we'll call it even. I'll take you up on that hot bath though. See you later," Valerian excused himself from the awkward situation. It was a bad place for Valerian to be in. Sure, Linedain was pretty damn hot with his big green eyes, thick blond locks, and warrior's physique, but his personality annoyed Valerian to no end. He always made sure to allude to how perfect he was, one way or another. He was arrogant and self-righteous in a way that was cleverly disguised. Salathel had warned Valerian many a time not to do anything to upset Linedain, seeing as how he was their lord's son, thus Valerian was fairly well stuck dealing with the gifts and subtle advances. At least that was all it was. Just silly presents and the occasional weird caress.
As he watched that bizarre moment between his new worst enemy and a man whom he assumed would be one of his new commanders, Adriel couldn't help but grimace. It was baffling to think that someone could actually like that guy.
"Brother, there is someone you should meet," Nonde spoke up after Linedain had finished his creepy doting on Valerian. He reached out to grab Adriel's shoulder and pull him forward. "This is our newest officer, Adriel Rain. I have promoted him to field general after his performance in battle today."
Linedain gave Adriel the once-over, which caused a slightly doubtful expression to cross his handsome features. "Nonde…where exactly did you find this man?" he asked, turning to his brother.
"He's the one who burned all our boats and tried to kill my son," Salathel interrupted, his arms folded across his chest as evidence of his displeasure at the situation.
"He's a mercenary," Nonde hurriedly explained. "He has no loyalty to Andron."
Linedain returned his judgmental gaze to Adriel. "And what makes you think that he'll show loyalty to us? What's to stop another man from doing exactly what you did and buying his sword for a higher price?"
"Well, I had hoped that he would come to enjoy being with us in a place where he was treated with the respect he deserves," Nonde replied with a sharp glare. "But evidently Lord Linedain cannot see beyond his own pride and praise a man for his talents."
"Lemme put your mind at ease a little," Adriel began, deciding to join the conversation seeing as how he was the subject of it. "Obviously he forgot to mention it, but your little sugar pie would have drowned in that river if it wasn't for me saving his ass."
Sugar pie? Nonde allowed himself a quiet chuckle at that ironic nickname for Valerian.
Smirking at the idea that he obviously wasn't the only one who was entertained, Adriel went on. "Anyway, you treat me good and I'm gonna treat you good. If you don't deserve a knife in the back, I won't put it there."
Linedain's lips folded inward and his brow furrowed as he submerged in deep thought. Several seconds passed in silence, so long that Adriel glanced over at Nonde to see if the young lord had any clue about what his brother was going to decide. Nonde just stared at his brother with a steadfast expression, meant to indicate that he was not going to back down on this one.
Finally, the older of the two brothers spoke. "All right, Nonde. I trust your judgment. Let us go draw up a contract." Spoken perfectly. He gave himself the power, but still kept himself clear of any danger of being blamed if things went wrong.
While the two sons of Rumen were going about their boring warlords' business, Valerian took his time soaking in the hot bath that Linedain had so kindly prepared for him. He had gotten lost at first, being in a completely foreign place, but a servant had directed him the right way and shortly after being dismissed from his lords' presence, he was washing his hair with scented soaps and breathing in fragrant steam that soothed his post-battle nerves. The water enveloped him, seeping into his pores and dissolving the stains of battle. He watched the sweat, grime, dirt, and blood disperse, a brownish cloud tainting the clear liquid. The disgusting remnants of the day. Wrinkling his nose at the thought of bathing in the now dirty water, Valerian pulled himself out of it and hurried to dry off and wrap himself in a robe offered to him by an attendant.
"Lieutenant, allow me to show you to your chambers," the servant said.
"You can just give me directions to the living quarters," Valerian responded, distracted with ringing out a handful of his dark hair so that he could pull it back. He hated the way wet locks felt against his skin.
"Please, Lieutenant," the servant requested, bowing to show that he meant no dissent to a superior. "Lord Linedain has designated a specific room for you."
Well, Valerian couldn't really argue with his lord's wishes. At least he could be sure that he would be sleeping somewhere nice for the duration of his stay here. He nodded and allowed the man to lead the way, his fingers combing through his disagreeable mane as he went. A wince hissed from between his lips as his ring got tangled in a few strands. Damn thing. The spiral shape made it prone to catching on things. Valerian gave a quick tug, tearing out a few of his black hairs. Lifting his hand before his face to glare at the decorative piece, the young lieutenant pulled the uprooted hairs from the silver coils and released them to float to the ground in the wind of his steps. Wearing a ring was something that Valerian was still getting used to; his father had only given it to him a few months ago in response to his promotion to lieutenant general. Despite the fact that he found it uncomfortable and annoying, Valerian never took it off for more than a few seconds, always slipping it right back on as soon as he could. The ring was a symbol of his father's acknowledgment. It was worth all the random, annoying snags.
Even one that had almost gotten Valerian killed. He raised his hand to grasp his throat, which was still tender from the bruising left on his skin after that crazy mercenary had taken him hostage with those muscular arms of his.
"Here we are, Lieutenant."
Valerian dropped his hand to his side and looked at the large set of double doors before him. The servant stepped forward to pull them open for him, revealing a rather lavish bed chamber. It must have belonged to someone important. "I guess it'll do," he shrugged, crossing the room to touch the curtains hanging over the far wall. "Thanks."
The servant bowed. "I shall pass your thanks on to our lord. Is there anything else that I can do for you, Lieutenant?"
"Actually, yes," Valerian said, turning to face the man again. "I need some clothes. And a drink. A comb would be nice, too."
"Right away, Lieutenant," the servant replied with a nod before disappearing behind the doors, leaving Valerian alone in the large room.
And what could Valerian do, alone in a large room, naked but for a linen robe? Probably a lot of things; this room seemed like it had a lot to offer. But Valerian wasn't interested in seeking out any entertainment. He wasted no time flopping onto the bed, which was big enough to fit at least five other people besides himself, sprawling out, and taking a little nap. One of his favorite pastimes. After only a few minutes of lying in such a comfortable bed, Valerian dozed off, passing the span of at least an hour in dreamland. There was a brief interruption of his sleep when the servant came knocking softly at the door with the things that the lieutenant had requested, but Valerian ignored it, pretending not to have woken. The man would have to come back later.
Someone did come later bearing clothes and a comb Valerian, but it was no servant. Again he was awoken by a knock. Not a soft knock, either. A confident rap that seemed more like a command to come to the door rather than a request for permission to enter. It was probably Salathel. Valerian groaned, rolling over onto his back and splaying his limbs out spread eagle before calling out, "Fine, come in!"
He heard the click of the doorknob, but didn't lift his head to see who it was. His eyes lazily traced the design on the canopy above his bed instead.
"Is that any way to greet your lord, Valerian?"
Oh fuck. Valerian hurriedly sat up and slid off the edge of the bed to place his fist against his palm and bow his head in salute to Linedain.
The older man laughed lightly at the gesture. "I was only jesting, Valerian. There's no need for formalities between us. As you were."
So Linedain said. But sometimes Valerian got the feeling that Linedain was toying with him, like he enjoyed reminding Valerian that he was, in fact, the lord, whose word was irrefutable.
"Thanks for the room," Valerian said, doing as his lord said and returning to his relaxed state on the bed.
Linedain appeared at the edge of the bed. Valerian took the hint and moved over to make some space, where Linedain sat. "Only the best for my best officers. I brought some things for you."
More gifts. Valerian rolled onto his side, propping his arm up and resting his head in his hand to look up at Linedain. "What things?" he wondered with feigned interest. He hadn't missed the folded clothes in the older man's arms when he had entered the room.
From between the folds of the fabric in his lap, Linedain produced a jeweled comb of brightly polished wood. "May I?"
Valerian didn't really have the option of refusing, he knew. Playing the part of an obedient subordinate, he left the bed and knelt between Linedain's knees with his back to his lord. He felt fingers dragging through his still damp locks, and then lightly caressing his neck as they pulled any stray strands back over his shoulders. A small shudder coursed through Valerian despite his best efforts to suppress it. There was gentle tugging as the teeth of the comb pulled through the tangled waves, tumbling down Valerian's back in a small waterfall.
"You'll tell me if I hurt you, won't you?" Linedain asked.
"You're doing way better than my mom ever did," Valerian responded. He wasn't lying. For a warlord, Linedain was surprisingly tender. Valerian's raven hair was somehow behaving better for the lord than it ever did for anyone else.
"I'm sure she wasn't concerned about hurting you," Linedain said. "You deserve a little pull every now and then for your attitude. You give your father—and everyone else, for that matter—quite a few headaches."
"I'm sorry, my lord," Valerian lied. "I'll try to be less headache-inducing." He wasn't going to try at all.
Linedain laughed. "I don't find you to induce headaches, Valerian. But perhaps that is because you are perfectly submissive to me."
"As any good officer is to his commander," Valerian said quickly. He didn't want Linedain getting any ideas about his submissiveness.
"Indeed," Linedain agreed. He patted Valerian's shoulder. "Finished. Now, get dressed. I want to show you something."
Valerian thought that it was a good thing he was being told to get dressed, but as he began to remove his robe and Linedain didn't even pretend to avert his eyes, the young officer got a bit nervous.
It wasn't that Valerian found the idea of sex with Linedain unappealing. Not at all. Sometimes, especially after a few drinks, Valerian thought about whispering into Linedain's ear at the banquet table, leading him to his chambers, and then riding him like he was a fucking warhorse. What repulsed Valerian was the idea of becoming Linedain's lover. Doing things like this, letting Linedain comb his hair, listening to him talk…just imagining it made Valerian want to hurl. Sure, he could handle it once in a while. He could get through whatever stupid thing Linedain wanted to show him tonight, but doing it any more than once in a while would probably kill Valerian.
He decided to pull his knee-length pants on underneath the robe before letting it fall off his shoulders to the floor. The fabric of the pants seemed to be clinging to his skin, putting on display the lines and shapes of his lean legs. He thought about telling Linedain that he must have brought pants that were a size too small, but in the end said nothing, instead pulling the tunic over his head. To finish off the ensemble, because it wouldn't do to go anywhere barefoot, Valerian slipped on a pair of stockings which he tucked under the hem of his breeches to sit between his skin and his soft leather boots.
"Okay," he said, as he raised his arms behind his head to tie his hair back into a ponytail. "Let's go see whatever this something you want to show me is." His fingers deftly moved to weave the length of the ponytail into a quick braid to keep it out of the way before tying it off at the end.
Linedain, whose peculiar smile left Valerian ever so slightly disconcerted, got to his feet and strode across the room to the large curtain on the back wall. When he had first arrived in this room, the young lieutenant had experienced a very fleeting twinge of curiosity about what was behind it, but that spark had quickly been extinguished when the prospect of a nap presented itself. It appeared that he was going to learn the answer that his sleepiness had postponed. Linedain gripped the rope at the edge of the shade and gave it a dramatic pull, sending the curtain whooshing away to the side to reveal a set of doors with glass panes, through which Valerian could see a nice patio leading into a vast garden. Nothing worth losing any sleep over.
"Shall we go for a walk?" Linedain offered smugly. He must have interpreted Valerian's wide-eyed disbelief that this surprise was so lame as wide-eyed amazement at the trouble his mighty lord had gone to for such a lowly lieutenant.
"A short one, right?" Valerian asked. He made sure to add, "Because I'm still kinda tired and a little sore from fighting today…"
"Of course," Linedain said, reaching out to place a hand on Valerian's shoulder to draw him forward. As they ventured out the doors, his hand slowly began to slip downward, tracing over the youth's shoulder blade, and then down to the small of his back. Much to Valerian's relief, that was where it rested. "Are you angry with my brother for recruiting a man who tried to kill you?"
Valerian raised and then dropped his shoulders in a small shrug. "As long as that guy stays away from me, I don't really care," he answered.
Low laughter hummed from behind Linedain's lips. "I don't think you have to worry about him, seeing as how he isn't particularly keen on you, either."
"Thanks for putting it so nicely," Valerian smirked at Linedain's eloquent way of saying that Adriel hated him. "Are you that delicate with your wife?"
Linedain ignored the mention of his marital partner. "I came to speak with you because I want you to understand my decision to accept Adriel into our family. I'm sure you must feel betrayed that I would bring on a new man who has threatened your life in the past, but I have made it perfectly clear to him that he is never to harm you," the lord explained.
"I'm not afraid of him," Valerian said, his tone taking on a slight edge.
"I know you aren't. How could you be, knowing that you have my protection?" Linedain replied. "Be at ease, Valerian. You are among my most highly valued men, and you have a bright future under me."
Valerian knew he was expected to thank his lord for being so generous with his praise, but he wasn't sure that if he opened his mouth he could stop himself from reminding Linedain that he was actually a servant of the real Lord Rumen, and not his self-obsessed son.
A long time ago, Salathel had given his son advice in dealing with Lord Rumen's eldest son. He told Valerian to inwardly laugh at Linedain's arrogance. It should be easy for him, Salathel had said, since he enjoyed mocking people so much. That was true. A small smirk tugged at Valerian's lips as he managed to find the humor in the situation. "You are far too kind to me, my lord," he said. "I don't deserve such a benevolent master."
Linedain made no effort to humble himself. He merely grinned with satisfaction at the praise he received. He slid his hand across Valerian's back to rest it on his lieutenant's opposite hip, drawing the youth closer to him as they continued their stroll in silence. It was agonizingly awkward for Valerian, who kept his arms folded tightly across his chest to avoid any unwanted contact. He wondered just how dense Linedain could be to not see the blatant evidence pointing to his distaste at the lord's advances, but realized that the cloud of self-righteousness enshrouding that huge head must have blocked Linedain's vision.
It took far too long for the torturous encounter to end. That short walk that Linedain had promised was anything but. They must have trekked through the whole fucking garden. At least the last half of the walk went by in silence, though. That alleviated some of the pain, Valerian supposed.
"It must be time for supper," Linedain pointed out. "Go and get yourself something to eat, Valerian. I will see you there shortly; I have to go take care of some lord's business."
Valerian needed no further prompting, and after giving Linedain a quick salute, he quickly dashed off in the direction of the dining hall. Well, he only dashed as far as it took to get out of sight of the warlord. Once he entered the palace, Valerian slowed to a casual stroll, a pace which suited him far better than rushing around. An exasperated sigh, which he had been holding in for about an hour now, heaved through his lips. Having Lord Linedain around never used to be so stressful. When Valerian was a kid, Nonde's older brother hardly even noticed him. But ever since Valerian had started going to battle with his father, things had gotten progressively more…suffocating. Three years ago, it was just generic compliments tossed Valerian's way. Then it was weird physical affection. A caress of Valerian's face or a hand lingering too long on his shoulder. After that, Linedain began showering Valerian in useless gifts. Treasures that he really didn't need because he was living comfortably enough in the palace already. And now, apparently Linedain was making visits to Valerian's bed chambers. Fantastic.
A drink would be nice right about now. Valerian wandered into the dining hall, full of tired warriors and hastily placed tables, and scanned the space for the familiar faces of his father and Nonde. As expected, Salathel was sitting at a quiet table in the corner with all the other old generals. Valerian headed that way to check in with his father. It was rare that Valerain ever went longer than an hour or two without seeing the man; he was slightly overdue to hear some gruff nagging. He slipped into an empty seat next to Salathel and wasted no time reaching for his father's cup to steal a long draught of wine.
"Son!" Salathel started a bit at Valerian's unexpected appearance. "I looked everywhere for you. You weren't in the room the servants told me you were supposed to be in. Where'd you get off to?"
If Valerian was going to have to talk about his painful outing with Linedain, he was going to need another drink. He decided against relinquishing his father's cup and finished off the contents before answering Salathel's question. "I was with Lord Linedain."
"You really wanna know?"
An exasperated sigh heaved through Salathel's lips. "I don't know, son, do I?"
Valerian left his father to his imagination for a few moments before spilling the beans. A few of the beans. Not all of them. "We had a heart-to-heart." There might have been a small sigh of relief released, but Valerian was too preoccupied searching for his best friend to notice. "Have you seen Nonde around?"
Salathel directed his boy by pointing across the hall. "He's over there at the loudest table in the room," the general said.
That was probably the first place that Valerian would have gone if he had actually looked instead of asking someone else to do the work for him. He tossed a thank you over his shoulder to his father as he set out to see what fun was happening without him at the table in the center of the room. Something interesting, if the crowd was any indication. Valerian wiggled his way to the center of the group, only to be disappointed when he reached the table. This thing that everyone was so enthralled by? It was a story being told by none other than Valerian's newest enemy. Adriel. That was what Linedain had called him. Valerian rolled his eyes in a most exaggerated manner the instant they recognized the face telling the story.
An eye roll of that magnitude was enough to stop Adriel mid-sentence. The mercenary closed his mouth, which had been frozen in a position slightly agape at the incredibly snotty nonverbal interruption, and leaned back from the table a bit to fold his arms across his chest in a defiant matter. He wasn't going to put up with that kind of treatment. If his new lord wanted him to be nice to Valerian, then it was only fair that Valerian be nice to him.
"I'm sorry, did I offend you?" Adriel asked.
"Last time I checked, attempted murder was pretty offensive," Valerian shot back, folding his own arms in response to Adriel's arm folding.
"Yeah, well I also saved you from drowning, in case you forgot."
"What?" Damn it, Valerian was so infuriated that he couldn't control the pitch of his voice. "Is that what you're telling everyone?"
"I didn't tell anyone that until just now," Adriel replied with a smirk. "I was actually in the middle of a story about the war up north before you showed up and interrupted it for everyone."
"Val, have a drink!" Nonde said loudly, drawing his friend's attention as he shoved a full cup of wine into his friend's hand.
That was a suggestion that Valerian wasn't going to argue with. He accepted the cup and tilted his head back, gulping the entire thing down in one go. That was better. He slammed the cup down onto the table triumphantly and pushed the man to Nonde's left out of the way so he could sit. "All right, tough guy. Let's hear it," he said, challenging Adriel to tell a story that was worthwhile. He propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin in the palm of his hand, dark eyes fixed on those of the man across the way. Damn, those eyes were weird. Valerian had never seen a blue so pale.
Coincidentally enough, Adriel was thinking about Valerian's eyes at the same time. Why was that annoying son of a bitch giving him a come hither look? What was with the bedroom eyes? Valerian's head was tilted slightly downward, creating the illusion that he was gazing up at Adriel through his eyelashes, which, by the way, were ridiculously lush. Creepy little shit.
"Where was I?" Adriel asked, tearing his eyes from Valerian's to look at anyone else.
After being prompted by one of the men, Adriel regained his bearings and continued his account of a battle he had fought in against the Imperial army. Valerian listened intently, although making sure to keep his expression bored and unimpressed. Even though he would never admit that he found the tale quite captivating, he understood the fascination of the other men. It was a thrilling story until the very end when Adriel and his men had been driven back to until there was nowhere to retreat but off a cliff.
"There was nothing else to do, so we jumped," Adriel explained with a shrug, as though it was no big deal that he and his men had plunged fifty feet into rocky waters. "It was either that or be taken prisoner."
"Seems like you're pretty used to losing," Valerian scoffed.
"And it seems like you're pretty used to having everything handed to you," Adriel retorted. "Your title is a combination of Daddy's reputation and sucking off your superiors, am I right?"
Valerian was going to kill that scum eating, slime spewing, mother fucking, pirate pig.
He was sensitive about certain things, and the matter of his titles and how he had earned them was one of those things. He lunged across the table for Adriel's throat, but Nonde stopped him. He grabbed Valerian around the middle and threw him backwards off the table and onto the ground, where he quickly pinned his friend to the ground.
"Valerian! That's enough!" he shouted.
"Let him up," Adriel said, vaulting over the table to stand over them. "Let him up and we'll settle this once and for all."
Valerian was squirming and writhing so wildly underneath Nonde that it wouldn't be long until he freed himself of the young lord's grasp.
"Adriel, you are out of line!" Nonde yelled over his shoulder at his newly acquired general.
"I'm not the one disobeying a direct order from my lord," Adriel pointed out.
That point was enough to stop Valerian from fighting against Nonde. He let his head fall back to rest on the ground and saw his father looking down at him with disappointment. And to top it all off, that very moment was the one that Linedain chose to arrive in the dining hall. Valerian was in so much trouble.
"What's going on here?" Linedain asked calmly.
"It's nothing," Nonde said quickly, retreating from his place on top of Valerian. He didn't want his brother thinking that he couldn't handle things. "Valerian's been drinking. You know how clumsy he is when he drinks. He fell and I tried to catch him and…well, this is how it ended…"
"If he's drunk, then perhaps he should be escorted to bed," Linedain suggested.
"Yeah, that's probably for the best," Nonde nodded, reaching down to haul Valerian to his feet. "I'll walk him there."
"What? You promised me a party, and you send me to bed before I even get to have dinner?" Valerian seethed as Nonde took his arm and yanked him away from the scene.
"Either you come with me, or you get to go on another romantic moonlit stroll in the garden with my brother," Nonde said out of the side of his mouth. "We'll have a servant bring some food to your room."
"They better send some wine, too," Valerian said, folding his arms across his chest. He pouted in silence long enough for Nonde to extract him from the dining hall safely before a curious thought struck him. He narrowed his eyes downward at his friend accusingly. "Wait. How did you know about that?"
Nonde released his grip on Valerian's arm and slid his hand upward to pat the lieutenant's shoulder with a small laugh. "Who do you think told my brother about your deep appreciation for nature's beauty?"
"You dastardly son of a bitch," Valerian frowned, slapping Nonde's hand away. "Why would you do that? I saved your life today, and that is how you repay me?"
"Call it payback," Nonde smirked. "For that gift you gave me in Caval."
Well, Valerian supposed that was fair enough. He nodded in acceptance as he reached out to pull the doors to his temporary chambers open and then led the way inside. Upon seeing the extravagance of the room, Nonde shook his head in disbelief.
"My brother loves you more than he loves me. I'm sleeping in a bed half that size."
"You're welcome to share it with me. You know, since you didn't throw that party for me and I'll be spending tonight alone."
"You can do better than me."
Valerian nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you're right. Too bad you cut me off so early tonight. If you had thrown that party for me, I would be drunk enough to give you a chance."
"Will you give it a rest?" Nonde sighed. "You'll get your damn banquet, okay?"
"When?" Valerian demanded.
"When my father gets here."
That was not an acceptable answer. "That doesn't count. He was going to have a banquet when he got here anyway. This one has to be specifically for me, in praise of my heroic deeds."
Nonde rolled his eyes. "You sound like my fucking brother. You need to stop hanging around him."
"Right. I need to stop hanging around him," Valerian repeated, with his own eye roll. "Because I choose to be smothered by his massive ego. It's quite enjoyable; you of all people must know that."
"I'm gonna go find a servant to get us that wine," Nonde declared, heading for the door.
While Valerian and Nonde had a fun time of bashing Linedain over freely flowing wine, the eldest son of Rumen had asked his newest general for a word concerning the scuffle that had almost broken out over dinner. He gestured that Adriel follow him to a secluded table away from the rest, and the mercenary followed, dropping himself unceremoniously onto the bench. Linedain took the place across the table and rested his hands, entwined at the fingers, before him.
"General, I will give you one first and final warning before taking disciplinary action," Linedain started, his eyes holding Adriel's in a most authoritarian manner. "I will not tolerate conflict between my officers. And I especially will not tolerate a man with such a lofty title as yourself bullying a younger officer of lower rank. That is the sort of behavior that breeds dissent."
"Let's get a few things straight, my lord," Adriel replied, resting his elbows on the table and mimicking the way which Linedain's hands were folded in nonverbal mockery. "First of all, your little boy toy was the one who tried to attack me. He's the rebellious one that you need to keep an eye on. And second, I just met the guy; I had no clue his rank or his age until you just now implied that he's younger and lower ranking than me. So, it seems to me that this is all just a misunderstanding. But I forgive you. It's an easy mistake to make when ya got blue balls." He reached out to give Linedain a slap on the shoulder before getting to his feet and taking his leave of the conversation, leaving the warlord slightly stunned by his brazenness.
Adriel was picky about who he took his orders from, and being subservient to that pompous monkey was going to be tough. Now Nonde was a decent guy that Adriel didn't have a problem listening to, but Linedain was an annoying rooster, crowing every morning and then taking credit for the sunrise. No wonder Valerian had pounded that drink earlier; it must have taken a lot of alcohol to be able to deal with that shit. Not that Adriel was sympathizing with that asshole or anything. Not at all. Those two deserved each other. He chortled at the thought of how painful it must have been for Valerian, dealing with the arrogant warlord as he exited the dining hall and headed out of the palace. It was time that he found himself entertainment that was a little more…well, entertaining.
He knew exactly where he was going, having worked in this small fortress town before. Not far from the barracks was a seedy pub and an equally dodgy brothel full of cheap hookers. The cheap ones were the best. They were cheap because they were ugly, but in their ugliness, they compensated by committing the raunchiest deeds that a man's perverted mind could come up with. It was safe to say that Adriel had never been with anyone beautiful. Pretty, maybe, but the more attractive they were, the straighter the laces. And Adriel was anything but straight-laced.
He slipped into the hazy establishment and took a seat near the door. After being offered a drink, he was asked his preference, and replied with "Cheap."
"Woman or man?" the owner prompted him.
Oh, that. Adriel was of the opinion that a hole was a hole, no matter where it was located. He shrugged. "Show me both."
In the end, he chose a young woman with a righteous, round, bouncing ass. Her tits were decent too, but Adriel was wholeheartedly an ass man, and hardly paid attention to her chest. Several hours passed by in that stuffy, sweaty room. So long that by the time he returned to the palace, everyone else seemed to have retired to their chambers. Not everyone was in bed, though. Adriel passed a few rooms from which weak candlelight seeped through the cracks of the doors.
One of those rooms that remained lit was the one Valerian was staying in. Inside, he sat at a small table across from his father, who was clearly more interested in the tile game they were playing than his fading son. Nonde had already passed out on the massive bed a short while ago, and Valerian was only one more loss away from joining him. The general's son looked into his empty wine cup, and then to the empty pitcher that had been knocked to the floor who knew how long ago.
Salathel finally made his move and lifted his eyes from the gameplay to look up at his drowsy son. "Why don't you go to bed, boy?" he suggested. "You can barely keep your eyes open."
"No, no," Valerian protested. He didn't want to end the game early and disappoint his father. Playing games like this was their thing. "We can finish the game."
"It's no fun when you're too tired to even challenge me," Salathel replied, getting to his feet. "Go to bed, Valerian."
"We can play again tomorrow. Once I'm rested, I'll teach you some new tricks, you old dog," Valerian surrendered, managing a tired smile up at his father as he extended his arms for help out of his chair.
Salathel grasped his son's wrists and pulled Valerian up to his feet. "Good night, son. You did well in battle. I'm proud of you," he said, patting the youth's back and giving him a light push toward the bed.
There was a grin across Valerian's lips at that compliment from his father as he crawled over the top of Nonde's lifeless form to get to the open side of the bed. It meant the world to him to hear that his father was proud of him, even if he pretended not to care what the old man thought. "Good night, Father," Valerian called out softly before burying his yawn into one of the cushions that Nonde hadn't claimed for himself.
The sound of his son's soft yawn reminded Salathel of the days when Valerian was too young for battle. The boy would stay up into the late hours of the night waiting for his father to return from banquets so that he could hear the fresh tales of the war. He used to fall asleep in Salathel's arms and whisper half-asleep good-nights as the general tucked him into bed. It seemed like only yesterday that Valerian had marched into battle for the first time. The boy had grown four years since then, from a cheerful, gangly little boy into a tall and wiry young man with a witty reply to everything and an unquenchable thirst for wine. There were things that Salathel wished he could change. He wished that Valerian would show some motivation during training, for instance. But despite Valerian's flaws, Salathel wouldn't trade him for any other boy in the world.
The general snuffed out the candle and slipped out of the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind him gently until it clicked softly. And then he nearly had a heart attack when he ran into someone just outside his son's room.
"General, isn't it a bit late for you to be up?"
"Just putting my son to bed, my lord," Salathel told Linedain pointedly. "He's still hardly more than a boy, after all."
"I would like a word with him," Linedain explained. "If you're only just leaving, he can't already be asleep?"
Salathel didn't move from his place in front of the door. "Perhaps not, but Nonde is in there with him. He's been sleeping soundly for almost an hour now. They need their sleep, my lord. It's been a busy day for them. Besides, is it really appropriate to discuss anything important this late at night? Surely it can wait until morning when my son is sober and has his wits about him."
The old general's words expertly extinguished any shady ambitions the warlord may have had. "You're right, General," Linedain nodded. "I must have allowed anxiety to get the better of me tonight. I will wait for a better time."
Despite his declaration to postpone his chat with Valerian, Linedain did not turn to leave immediately. He lingered, and so Salathel remained at his post in front of the door, his eyes fixed upon the warlord's handsome face. Linedain was looking past Salathel, as though he could see through the door, studying the sight of Valerian's svelte limbs stretched out over the top of the bed covers in the muggy summer heat, his cheeks tinged a delicate pink from the wine that had lulled him into a sleepy state. The boy's obliviousness to Linedain's advances was torturous. Because that was the only explanation. There was no way that Valerian could know, and that he was denying his lord's affections. With a moody huff, Linedain turned on his heel to sulk away down the dark corridor.
He went to bed at war with himself, knowing that it wasn't right to use his authority to force anything upon the young lieutenant, but he was at his wits' end with that boy. Linedain was never refused anything that he wanted, and he wanted those suggestive glances, that hip that always jutted out to one side, those lissome arms stretched over his raven head and revealed a strip of skin between his pants and top as he yawned with disinterest at whatever his superiors were saying. How long was Linedain expected to wait before Valerian caught on? He had tried everything that Nonde had suggested to gain Valerian's gratitude and fondness, but nothing seemed to be working. It seemed as though Linedain was just going to have to spell things out for Valerian.
A/N: So, if anyone would like to find out what happens next, you should review so that I know haha. I'm trying to be patient, but…I'm just not a very virtuous person haha. What do we think of Linedain? And have your opinions of the other characters changed at all? I know we didn't get a lot of Adriel, but his time is coming soon, don't worry! Anyway, if you do choose to review, which I certainly hope you will, I would like to ask that we keep those reviews focused on this story, rather than my other works. If you want to talk about Just Out of Reach, you should go review Just Out of Reach haha. I love all of you and thank you for visiting!