Size: 5.25 x 8.00 in
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
A prince without power
In a land where magic is commonplace, Prince Llyskel has none. He can’t command spells, he has never been taught to fight, and as the fifth son of the King, he will never rule. Everyone believes he’s a weakling, most of all himself.
Powerlessness is Llyskel’s problem—and his pleasure. In his secret fantasies, the prince dreams of nothing more than finding himself helpless at another man’s hands… particularly the hands of Captain Ariv of the Guards.
Then Ariv makes Llyskel’s dream a reality, and as the powerless prince surrenders to the soldier’s desire, he finds his own true strength at last. But a web of royal politics is closing around Llyskel, threatening to tear him from his lover, and it will take all his newfound courage to escape…
- 24,000 words | 76 pages (pdf)
- contains five shaded black-and-white illustrations by Yana Goya
It started with a line, just one line. Before long, the line became a brushstroke, a smear, a shape. Once I started with that single line, I could not stop. I needed to capture every detail, every hint of movement—from the biggest tree to the tiniest flower, to the way the leaves shuddered in the wind—every glimmer and shadow. Whether brush or pencil, canvas or pad, I had to keep painting until that first line had become a finished work, no matter how long it would take.
Which was how I found myself standing at the edge of the waterfall in the fast–fading sunlight.READ MORE
The bells announcing the end of the midday break had not yet stopped ringing when I arrived at my favourite spot some hours ago. The rays of sun hit the waterfall at just the right angle, creating a beautiful play of shadows as the water crashed into the shaded fen, spraying drops of light everywhere. I spent hours trying to recreate those shadows, the sparkling water, and the way it all moved. The changing light made it difficult, but that first image was so clear in my mind that I hardly had to look up from my work. Surrounded by the thundering sounds of the waterfall and the smells of fresh water, tangy hindra bushes, and sweet yellow nara flowers, I worked until I had put the last bit of shade in, and my painting was done.
I should have gone home then, but I had barely wrapped the painting when the water nymphs came out to play. They must have known I was there, but they splashed around as if I wasn't, their lithe figures almost floating on the surface. I had never seen them so joyous, and I couldn't resist grabbing a new canvas to paint them, losing track of time in the process.
With one last look at the water nymphs, I hoisted my bags onto my shoulders and made my way down the path leading to the castle grounds. I would have to hurry. It would be dark soon, and Father would be furious if he found out I had sneaked off without my guard. Again.
He had warned me over and over not to stray too far and to always take Neia with me. But, painting with someone constantly watching me wasn't easy. Neia tried to keep her distance, but I still felt her eyes on me all the time. I itched to be alone. Not alone in my room. No, alone out here, painting without being disturbed or being told when to go home.
I had tricked Neia into believing I would be in town all day with Endyrr, one of my brothers, visiting his lover, Kalnor. Endyrr and Kalnor would believe I had been at the castle since midday, because they had accompanied me back to the outer gardens then. It had been easy to grab my leather painting bags from their hiding place in the hedge, and walk out again after my companions had disappeared from view. With no one working in the gardens around midday, there had been no danger of being seen.
My crunching steps sounded loud in the otherwise quiet forest; I could barely hear the waterfall over their noise. I kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, avoiding thorns and poison creepers as best as I could, and stepping over any stumps and branches in my way. I should have taken the path: it was wider and there were fewer obstacles to trip over in this fading light. But this way I would reach the castle grounds sooner, and hopefully before anyone realised I wasn't where they thought I was.
Leaves rustled behind me, and I froze. I hoped it was one of the castle's cats out hunting and not a boar smelling dinner, but I still changed my grip on the bag holding my paints and palette. It was heavy enough to hit a boar with, surely. Not that I thought of doing so—I had been taught to be as still as possible when the boars were around—but if it moved in on me, I would have to fight. I had no hope of outrunning one.
A twig snapped, in front of me this time, and I closed my eyes.
I sighed as I recognised Captain Ariv's deep, gravelly voice, torn between relief at having one of Father's men save me from a boar, and annoyance at being caught off grounds.
Something shiny caught my eye, but before I could react to it, I heard the familiar zing of a shooter, and whatever was behind me dropped with a low–pitched whine. The ground trembled beneath my feet, but when I looked back, I saw nothing. The beast was probably hidden by the hindra bushes.
"Come. That boar'll stay down long enough for us to get out of here."
I faced the captain, only to discover his shooter aimed at me. No, not at me, at the boar, but that didn't matter. The shooter was right in my line of sight, the way it always happened in my fantasies. The copper shooter glinted in the barest hint of light, and I shivered as I caught a whiff of lingering magic amongst the tangy smell of the hindra bushes.
The hand holding the shooter was large and strong, a perfect fit around the shooter's handle. I was painfully aware of the captain's presence, and I swallowed the moan threatening to escape as I resisted the urge to adjust my trousers, covered by my, thankfully, loose–fitting tunic. Instead, I tried to take deep breaths that kept ending in gasps and did nothing to stop my body responding as if to a lover's touch. I wanted to look away, but couldn't. How I longed to feel the effects of a stunning spell, wanted that strong hand to tense around the handle, to…
I bit my lip to keep from making a sound and moved my bags in front of me, hoping Captain Ariv hadn't noticed my reaction. I needed to look away, needed to walk on, but I couldn't make myself. I was frozen. Again. Only this time it had nothing to do with fear.
When Captain Ariv finally lowered his shooter, my head bowed with it, my eyes following its descent until it disappeared behind his back. I sighed.
"Your Highness? What are you doing out here?"
I forced myself to look up at him, showed him my bags, and aimed for a smile.
Captain Ariv frowned. "You're not supposed to—"
"Stray off the grounds on my own. I know," I interrupted him, ignoring the slight wobble in my voice. "I lost track of time."
Ouch. There was that. The story of my life. The fifth son of the king of Eizyrr, the powerless one who needed constant supervision, the one who could never fight for his kingdom. No doubt I'd be the talk of the soldiers tomorrow. "Found wandering outside the castle grounds again," they'd say, "on his own, without his guard, and retrieved like a stubborn little puppy." I barely kept from balling my fists around the straps of my bags. I wasn't a stripling any more. "D'you think you can take me to my rooms, Captain?" I said as calmly as I could manage.
For a moment he just stared at me, eyes narrowed, as if trying to see into me. Then he grinned, a wide grin that made me wonder if he was up to something.
"Of course, Your Highness. I take it you don't want the king to know?"
I doubted that was possible, but I nodded anyway.
"Well, then, Your Highness. Let me carry that for you, and I'll sneak you past the guards."
I almost refused, but if he wanted to carry my bags for me, so be it. He seemed surprised at their weight as he took them, yet hefted them both onto one shoulder without effort and turned around, clearly expecting me to follow him. Was he really going to help me get past the guards? Probably not, but it was nice to think he was.
I looked behind me and thought of the water nymphs. I hoped I wouldn't be grounded for long.
Nearing the outer walls, I could hardly even see the battlements of the castle. I could see the four towers, though, their roofs as green as the vines covering the dark grey stone walls.
Although he'd told me otherwise, I expected Captain Ariv to march me straight through the gate to Father. Instead, he left me standing in the shadows as he chatted amiably with the guards, distracting them so I could pass by unseen, and did the same at the inner walls. Apparently, he was a man of his word.
Out of habit, I stopped halfway into the gardens, and looked up at the castle. If anyone saw me out here now, they would think I had just arrived back from town, provided Captain Ariv didn't tell on me. I watched the flickering lanterns lighting up the high, dark walls in an eerie mix of greens and greys, broken only by wavering hues of yellow from the lamps burning in the windows. I had painted the castle like this once. Mother hung it in the dining room, the private one.
There were no lights coming from my tower, barring the lamp I put on the hall table in the morning. The rest were hidden away in cupboards. I used to leave them out, but their artificial glow ruined the wondrous shapes daylight created on my walls. I hated those lamps, hated having to ask others to turn them off, but Mother did not trust me with candles, not when I couldn't douse them with magic. Her refusal to acknowledge that candles didn't need magic always baffled me.
I sauntered towards my tower, containing the only magicless rooms in the castle, not counting the lamps. They hadn't always been so, but when I kept bumping into the doors, got my fingers caught, and even got stuck in the bathroom once, they had been rebuilt without magic. Now others bumped into my doors when they forgot.
Neia's room, at the bottom of the stairs, was empty. Relieved not to have to explain myself to her, I climbed the stairs and let myself in, taking the lamp with me. My walls lit up as I placed more lamps around the room. I smiled, remembering the tantrums I had thrown when my parents refused to repaint my walls. Even at six, I had been very picky about my colours. In the end they had given in to my wishes, though it had taken three tries to get a green that would look like a hint of fresh moss in daylight, but wouldn't turn the colour of a budgerigar at night. I reached for my bags, only to realise Captain Ariv still had them. Now I'd have to go all the way to the northern walls, to the captains' quarters, to get them back. But when I opened my door, Captain Ariv stood in the hall with that wide grin on his face, holding out my bags.
"You forgot these, Your Highness."
"Yes, thank you, Captain." I reached for the bags.
"May I see your paintings?"
I opened my mouth and closed it. It wasn't as if I hadn't entertained anyone in my rooms before, though never one of Father's men, and certainly never someone as formidable, as desirable, as Captain Ariv. I looked behind me. My desk, a chunky dark brown piece of wood, was strewn with brushes, pencils and drawing pads, both new and filled with sketches, but the rest seemed presentable. I moved aside to let him in.
Captain Ariv looked around as I closed the door. He walked over to my desk and put the bag of paints down on the floor next to it. I followed him and reached for the other bag, but he ignored me and started unpacking it himself. He took his time, too, studying both paintings as he unwrapped them, putting the one with the water nymphs on the easel, and the one with the waterfall on my desk. He stepped back and studied them. "You make them come alive."
I shook my head. "They are alive. I merely paint them as they are."
His expression turned thoughtful, and a shiver crawled up my spine. "Let me see your work."
I frowned. "My work can be seen all around the castle."
"The ones you don't show."
I stared at him, my heart thumping, hoping I had misunderstood.
I was tall, but still had to look up to him, and he was much broader than my wiry frame. Then again, everyone was broader than I would ever be. They said I looked like my mother, with my grey eyes and long hair as red as the kozal roses, but even she was more muscular than I was. Bloody magic.
Captain Ariv's eyes were darker than any I'd ever seen. They had to be brown, but they were so dark they looked black, as black as his spiky hair. Black, yet not cold, even though they seemed to stare straight through me, intent, yet thoughtful. I had to fight not to lick my lips. His presence stirred me, almost as much as his shooter had. I closed my eyes at the memory and swallowed, willing myself not to become hard.
He caressed my cheek. It would be so easy to lean into his touch. His hand stilled and moved away. I opened my eyes to find him standing at the door, watching me and shaking his head. "Go to sleep, your Highness. And do not go off grounds without Neia again." He slipped out of my room.
I took a shaky breath and leaned against my desk, watching the closed door. What had just happened? How had he known about those paintings?
Unsteady on my feet, my steps heavy and clunky, I ascended the stairs and walked through my bedroom into my private gallery, closing the door behind me. I sank down on the bench in the middle of the room and stared at the painting in front of me. I hadn't known his name when I first painted him, but now I easily recognised the hand I'd seen up close in the forest. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. His expression had been serious when I painted him. A bit younger, his hair sticking out to all sides, eyes half closed in the bright sunlight, squinting at something to my left.
I had never seen him smile on the training field, yet he was not a cruel man. He fought fair, fought clever, never seemed excessively hurtful—even though he was probably one of the strongest men out there—and wielded the shooter with skill. I looked away from his face to what made me paint him that day. The copper of his shooter reflected bright rays of sun. His hand seemed less tanned and the position was not quite the same, but my pulse raced nonetheless.
My eyes glued to the shooter, I laid back and freed my cock, running my fingers up and down as I imagined my body yielding to the stunning spell. I imagined another's hand, Captain Ariv's hand, jacking me off hard and fast as I lay stunned, and bit my lip to keep from crying out as I came.COLLAPSE
"Arden does a wonderful job of letting us see things through his artist’s eyes, and the colors and light and images are all so beautifully explained. The world of magic the story creates is richly detailed, but not overwhelming in its world building for such a short book. … It had a wonderful combination of sweet romance, hot sex, and exciting action. I would definitely recommend it."