Dara cleaned himself extra thoroughly the next morning, just in case the prince wanted to see him again. After a full day of work and being accosted by the guards, Dara hadn't been at his best last night, and it made him feel embarrassed. The prince could have anyone, so the least Dara could do was be clean.

There wasn't much he could do to make his uniform more presentable, though. He had a spare one, but despite his best efforts to keep them in good condition time had left them worn and stained.

Apparently the prince hadn't forgotten him, because just before noon the tailor's assistant showed up to measure him. Nobody had bothered to do that for him in a long time, not since he had had actual value to someone. Maybe this meant he was valued again, though obviously for different reasons. Reasons that were likely to be rather temporary as the prince's attention wandered. It was something, though, and Dara was grateful for it.

He didn't see or hear from the prince again over the next couple of days, and he was beginning to fear he had been forgotten before finally, on the day the prince was to leave, one of the palace slaves came with summons from the prince. It seemed the prince had just instructed whoever was closest to go to fetch Dara, regardless of their usual function. The palace slave looked uncomfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings of the barracks, so Dara washed up as quickly as he could before following.

When Dara reached the prince's room, the prince let him in with a smile. He was dressed to ride in blue cloth and brown leather, and though the clothing was well made the simplicity of the design disguised his status. Combined with his easy cheer and the casual way he brushed Dara's hair away from his face in passing, it was easy to forget he was a prince. Too easy. He handed Dara a bundle of clothes. "Change."

The prince had spoken perfunctorily, but an almost smug smile crept onto his lips as Dara started to unbutton his pants. He reminded Dara of the way the barrack's cat watched as its bowl was filled, patient but alert and quietly self assured that it would get what it wanted, what it deserved just for existing.

With the way the prince was watching him, Dara half expected him to initiate some kind of repeat performance of the other night. He didn't. It wasn't until Dara had exchanged his old pants for the new ones and was putting on his new shirt that the prince finally approached him. He pushed Dara's hands away and began doing his shirt buttons up.

"I thought I was supposed to be the one doing these kinds of things for you," Dara mused out loud, and then immediately wondered if he had spoken out of turn. It was much too easy to forget his place when the prince treated him so kindly.

The prince gave him a lascivious grin. "Perhaps you can help me take my clothes off tonight."

An imagine of the prince naked came unbidden into Dara's mind and he flushed. Not that he knew what the prince's naked body looked like, but he'd seen enough naked men changing and washing up in the barracks to make a guess. The thought of the prince naked was a little scary, but fear wasn't the only thing tightening Dara's gut.

"It looks good on you," the prince said, and it took Dara a moment to realise he meant the uniform. The prince had finished with the buttons and was standing back to look Dara over carefully. "I like you in my colours. The darker blue is a close match for your eyes."

A blue the colour of a bright summer sky and a lighter blue not far off white were the prince's colours. On Dara's old uniform the colours had gone faded and greyed over the years, but the colours on these new clothes were vibrant and fresh.

"I have a spare packed for you, but there was only time to get the two sets made, so I expect you to take good care of them," the prince said, and Dara nodded quickly. The prince smiled. "Come along, now. There's something I think you should see before we leave."

The prince's hand was on Dara's arm as he led him down the corridor, and somehow the loose grip was more comforting than confining as it might have been from someone else. The unnecessary contact felt like a kind of possession, and it had always been Dara's desire to be possessed by the prince. It was unfortunate that his past experiences had put limitations on the extent of that possession.

Outside the sun's rays warmed their skin as the prince led Dara down a path towards the training grounds. It was a place Dara always avoided due to the violent purpose of it, but it wasn't an issue worth defying the prince over.

As they got closer, pain prickled and then sparked at the edge of Dara's mind. Someone was hurt. His eyes soon registered what his body had felt: there was a public whipping taking place. The whip cracked on bare flesh, searing a line across it, and it scorched Dara inside somewhere deep and intimate. He felt nauseated.

Somehow Dara managed to continue to put one foot in front of the other so as not to resist the prince. The second hand pain Dara was experiencing was so distracting that he didn't piece together what was going on until they were standing directly in front of the whipping post and one of the guards who had tormented him was scowling down at him. The other two guards were being held off to the side, awaiting their turns.

The guards were being punished, presumably for hurting Dara, and the prince had brought Dara here to show him. Was that something most people would want to see? Dara supposed it might be. Justice, vengeance, they were things people had a powerful desire for. The whip landed again and Dara flinched.

The prince must have felt the movement under his hand, because he glanced over at Dara and then frowned. Dara imagined he must have looked a mess. Pale, sweating, and following the next lash, shaking. Another strike pushed him past the edge, and Dara pulled away from the prince and ran to the nearest bush. He promptly regurgitated his breakfast.

The prince walked over slowly, and by the time he reached Dara, Dara was done. He still wasn't far enough away, though. He could feel and hear each time the tail of the whip connected with flesh, each strike making his shoulders jerk involuntarily.

"When you said you were a pacifist, this is not quite what I had expected," the prince said dryly, but he was frowning at Dara with concern. "Come on, you don't look like you're getting any satisfaction out of bearing witness to this."

Dara didn't really pay much attention to where he was being led, but somehow they ended up in front of the palace. There was a gathering of soldiers and horses as well as two wagons. The soldiers were all dressed in the prince's colours, though their uniforms were of a more rugged design meant for harder wear than the one Dara had been given.

The prince sat Dara down in the back of one of the wagons, left for a minute, and then returned with a cup of water. Dara rinsed out his mouth and then drank the rest of it.

It was odd when the prince did things for him. Was that how the prince normally behaved, or was it something particular to Dara? Perhaps he had a nurturing nature — which was also strange to think about — and Dara had triggered it with his frequent shows of vulnerability.

"You'll be riding in here, so get comfortable," the prince told him.

Dara looked around the wagon. It was covered, providing him shelter from the sun, but there wasn't much room in amongst all the luggage and supplies. Dara would have preferred to ride, but he supposed he wasn't nearly worth the cost of even the cheapest horse anymore.

He'd had a horse once, back when he was worth something. She had been a dapple mare, a gift from the king's own stable. She had been passed along to some courtier when Dara had proven he would no longer be useful. He missed riding.

The prince's horse, Dara found when a stable boy led him over, was pure white. Dara didn't think the horse suited the prince, with his deeply tanned skin and brown hair, terribly well. The clothing he was wearing to ride was of a slightly more complex cut than that of his men and bore shiny silver buttons, but if Dara hadn't known his status he would have guessed he was just a higher ranking soldier.

The horse pulled at its lead rope and the prince allowed him enough slack to approach the wagon and nuzzle at Dara. Dara smiled and scratched the horse's ear.

"He really likes you," the prince said, surprise evident in his voice.

"Animals can sense something about me," Dara told him. "I wish I could have worked in the stables instead. I think the only reason I wasn't allowed to was to put me in my place. To remind me that I didn't get things just because I wanted them."

"Working in the barracks was such a waste of you," the prince said, and Dara got the feeling he wasn't suggesting that the stables would have been a better place for him.

Didn't he remember Dara's blatant inadequacies in the areas the prince wanted him for? A fun diversion for a prince, perhaps, but nothing anyone wouldn't quickly tire of. Dara just hoped that, when the prince inevitably grew bored of him, he would have enough sense not to try to get Dara to continue being a bed slave. Nobody else would want him if they wished to respect his boundaries, and if they didn't care what Dara wanted it would be only a small step up from his previous role of barracks slave and occasional torture victim.

The prince led his horse away and then mounted before riding off to lead the congregation. Dara was left alone as the wagon began to make its bumpy path down the road into the city beyond.

Dara hadn't been allowed out of palace grounds for years, so there was much to see in the city as they made their slow path through it. He wished he could stop, buy a sugared pastry from a merchant, explore the marketplace. People gawked at them as they passed, but their gazes rarely fell on Dara. The prince was an interesting sight, and perhaps the soldiers in their grand uniforms, on their fine horses, but Dara was just a simple slave in the back of a wagon. That was fine. He'd come to prefer to avoid attention.

There wasn't much to see after they left the city, just farmland, but after a while the prince lagged back to ride behind the wagon. Apparently his taking the lead was purely for show and not something he particularly cared about.

Another man came to ride beside the prince, the silver thread on his slightly more elaborate uniform suggesting he was the captain of the guard. This man, with his golden hair and classically handsome features, would have looked far less out of place on top of Maric's brilliant white horse. Dara suspected the fine sword that hung at his hip was as deadly as it was decorative.

The captain was smiling and he was looking at Dara, but he wasn't quite smiling at Dara. He was looking Dara over rather than looking him in the eye.

"Well, I certainly see what appeal you found in him," the captain said to the prince without taking his eyes off Dara. "Perhaps you'd be open to sharing?"

Fear clenched at Dara's heart. He had come to trust that the prince would avoid causing him harm, but there was no guarantee anyone else would be so careful.

When the prince smiled, it was for Dara. "I think not."

"Are you sure?" the captain asked. "You could be there too. Make things interesting."

For a moment the prince seemed almost to consider it, but then he chuckled and shook his head. "I'm afraid you'll have to find your satisfaction elsewhere this time, Brayan."

Dara found it interesting to hear the way the captain — Brayan — spoke to the prince, and how the prince responded in turn. The prince didn't seem to care at all about enforcing his rank, and his inferiors felt comfortable enough to openly question him. Even the soldiers of lower rank seemed relaxed around him. Of course, that didn't mean such things extended to Dara except when it was the prince's whim. He wouldn't dare behave so irreverently towards the prince. Once upon a time it would have been expected of him, but not now.

They ate lunch on the move, which was easier for Dara in the wagon than it was for the men riding. They seemed to be used to it, though. They tossed food to each other and caught it with practised grace.

The countryside they were travelling through quickly became dull, but observing the people around him was enough to keep Dara from growing bored. It was as much a matter of self preservation as it was curiosity. Dara needed to know if any of these men intended to hurt him.

For the most part the prince's men ignored Dara, but a few gave him their attention. Brayan had already made the nature of his interest clear, but he hadn't seemed to resent the rejection. Dara decided he seemed safe enough.

The youngest member of the guard was named Raedon and appeared to be barely eighteen. His attention was not on Dara, but rather on the prince when the prince's attention strayed to Dara. There were no signs of jealousy, just the kind of interest held by someone watching a play. What was happening between Dara and the prince was some kind of fascinating drama to Raedon. Dara could only guess that he'd gotten his position on the guard at the request of his older brother, Mathers, who didn't stray from his side once during the long day's ride. Both men were mousy haired and freckle faced, but not displeasing to the eye.

The oldest of the prince's men, a man in his forties named Garred, rode beside the wagon for a while after the early excitement of being on the move had quietened. He told Dara about his granddaughter, newborn and healthy, and shared a paper bag of dried dates with him. Just having someone's attention had Dara on edge at first, but he soon realised he recognised what Garred was doing. Dara had played confidant many times in the castle barracks for soldiers who cared more about clearing their minds than who was listening.

By the time they finally stopped at an inn for the night, light was fading and Dara had decided the prince's men posed no immediate threat to him. Men moved around, stabling horses and heading into the tavern to get dinner, and Dara was left lost in the chaos. Where did he fit into all of this? He glanced back at the wagon. There was a blanket in there, and he still had some leftover cheese and bread from lunch...

Dara was contemplating climbing back in and settling down for the night when a hand landed on his shoulder. He jumped and turned to find the prince smiling down at him.

"Come on," the prince said, and then turned and headed towards the inn. Dara hurried to catch up.

The prince led him inside the inn, past the tavern, up a flight of stairs, and through a door at the end of the hall. The room beyond was simple but clean and held a large bed and a tub of steaming water. They must have known the prince was coming.

After shutting and locking the door the prince began to unbutton his shirt, and then paused. "Oh. I was going to let you do this, wasn't I?"

Dara flushed and immediately went over to help the prince out of his clothes. Dara had barely begun, the prince's shirt half way unbuttoned, when the prince tipped Dara's chin up for a kiss. It was slow, undemanding, tender. Somehow Dara couldn't feel like he was an object good for nothing but pleasure when the prince kissed him like that. He was, but he was able to forget it.

It was hard to focus on his task with the prince's lips on his and the prince's hands roaming over his body. By the time all of the button's on the prince's shirt were undone and Dara was pushing it off his shoulders, the prince had Dara's own shirt half way unbuttoned too.

"You're so lovely," the prince murmured into Dara's ear, and Dara felt special. It had been a long time since he'd felt like he mattered even a little bit. When he went to start on the prince's pants, he discovered the prince was hard.

And... Dara sort of wanted to see it. He knew what it could be used for and that scared him, but he couldn't deny that beyond the fear the prince's body held appeal. He was a fine looking man and he knew just how to touch Dara to make him feel good. Even so, Dara made sure not to brush against the bulge any more than he needed to in order to remove the prince's pants. It wasn't his place to make any move the prince hadn't requested.

It was strange to see it, when it was finally bared. Such an intimate part of such an important man. It stood as tall and proud as the prince himself, the sensitive skin flushed pink at the tip. He was larger than Dara in this way as he was in all others, thicker and longer in proportion with the rest of his body. Dara's fingers flexed unconsciously with the desire to touch it, to feel the heat of it and the softness of the skin, but he kept his hands to himself and awaited direction.

Dara's shirt was off and then the prince had his hands on Dara's pants, in Dara's pants. His every movement held gained greater enthusiasm, but Dara trusted him not to do anything that might cause him any kind of fear or pain. Dara did trust him, didn't he? The prince's mouth was on Dara's throat and Dara's pants were being slid down his thighs. Soon they were both naked, their bodies pressed together.

"I think we should wash some of the sweat and dust off our bodies, don't you?" the prince asked. It was a rhetorical question so Dara didn't answer, just followed the prince over to the tub.

The prince climbed in first, and then moved back far enough to allow Dara room to get in in front of him. There was barely space to fit both of them and the tub almost overflowed, but they managed it. Dara could feel the prince's hardness pressing against the small of his back. He shifted into a more comfortable position against the prince and he felt it twitch against him in response to the movement.

The prince didn't seem to be in any hurry to do anything more, so Dara slowly relaxed into the water and against the prince's body. It was nice to have a proper bath. He hadn't had one in years. Dara closed his eyes as the prince slid a bar of soap over his body.

The prince wasn't shy about touching every part of Dara, but his hands didn't linger in any one place for more than a few moments. It was a slow exploration rather than an attempt at anything in particular. It was impossible to forget about the prince's state of arousal with it pressing against Dara as it was, though. Dara responded with a hardness of his own and a tension that didn't quite bleed out of his muscles no matter how long the prince graced his skin with gentle touches.

Eventually, after Dara's body had been thoroughly touched and cleaned, the prince's hand wrapped around him and began a slow but steady stroke. Each time the prince moved his arm he rocked his hips up, rubbing himself against the small of Dara's back with steadily increasing neediness.

"Here, get out," the prince said before Dara could get too into things. Disappointed, Dara obeyed.

The prince washed himself quickly and efficiently, rubbing soap over his body and dunking his head under the water to rinse out his hair. When he was done he climbed out and reached for a towel. He dried both of them off without preamble, his erection pressed hard against his belly throughout, and then tugged Dara over to the bed. He flopped down and pulled Dara on top of him.

Dara was more comfortable with this, being on top, but it was an odd feeling to have a man of the prince's status beneath him. To have anyone beneath him. The prince pushed a hand down on Dara's ass and ground up against him.

"You move too," the prince said when Dara just lay there, still and pliant. "Don't presume too much, but get involved. Take some initiative."

He spoke like a tutor, and Dara got the feeling that was exactly what the prince was aiming for. He didn't wish simply to use Dara, he wished to train Dara into a bed slave. Dara was fairly sure he was wasting his time, but he would do whatever he could to please the prince. He would do anything, no matter how it hurt him, so he hoped the prince maintained his patience. Surely there would be a limit it it, though, and then what?

There was no room in Dara's mind for such worries just then, though, as he mimicked the way the prince was grinding against him. It was too difficult to pace properly to quite get off on, but it was enough to fill Dara with a desperate need.

The prince's hands travelled over Dara's ass and up the backs of his thighs but didn't delve anywhere more intimate, though Dara was sure that was what the prince would have liked. It made Dara feel bad, not to be able to give the prince what he truly wanted. The prince shifted Dara off, and then used his mouth to finish him off.

As Dara was coming down, the prince lay down next to him. He took one of Dara's hands and wrapped it around his member. "You can do this, yes?"

Dara could indeed do that, though it felt a little juvenile. If the prince minded, though, he kept it to himself and enjoyed Dara's touch.

As the pace of the prince's breathing increased he wrapped his hand around Dara's, tightening his grip and making the strokes firmer, faster, showing Dara how he liked it. He spilled himself over both of their hands.

"See?" the prince said after his breathing had steadied and they'd wiped themselves down. "I think whoever gave up on you didn't put enough effort in. All you need is a gentle hand and a bit of patience."

Dara almost laughed. Of course the prince thought Dara had been destined for his sheets. After all, Dara had intentionally allowed him to believe it. He didn't like to think about what he'd really lost.

When Dara said nothing, the prince kissed his chin. "You don't speak much."

Dara frowned. "What would you like me to say?"

"Whatever's on your mind. A bed mate is far more interesting when he has something to say."

Dara thought for a moment. He didn't really have anything of interest to say. All the training he'd received on making conversation with those of high status had faded from his memory. Eventually he decided on, "I liked that. That was nice. Nobody has ever given me pleasure before, and I wouldn't have expected you to care to."

The prince's lips stretched into a broad smile. "It's a matter of pride. Anyone can take pleasure, but giving it is a worthwhile skill."

Dara didn't see why such a thing should matter to a prince. Who would say no to him or berate him if he were a selfish lover?

They rinsed off again in the tub, and then the prince ordered some food to be brought up for them. Dara was glad not to have to go down into the busy tavern and be out of place amongst all the soldiers.

"You make me feel safe," Dara told the prince as they ate.

The prince gave Dara a questioning look over the table.

"You told me to speak my mind, so I just wanted to say that... you make me feel safe, and I haven't felt safe in a long time. Thank you."

"You're welcome," was all the prince said, but his voice was warm and his smile was reassuring.

They shared the bed that night, Dara spooned in front of the prince, and despite the unfamiliar feeling of a body so close to his own Dara slept well.