The Queen is dying...
Struggling to come to terms with his new life in Rshan na Ostre, young Scarlet is trying to find his place in a decadent, foreign society that bears an ancient hatred for all Hilurin. As Liall is pulled away from Scarlet and into the jaded intrigues of a royal court, the young pedlar wonders if they haven’t both made a terrible mistake in journeying to Rshan. Each passing day, Liall seems more like a stranger, more like one of the haughty Rshani nobility and less like the bandit leader Scarlet knew in Byzantur. As Liall contends with the aristocracy to uphold his fourteen-year-old brother’s claim to the throne, an infinitely more dangerous enemy draws nearer, determined to part the lovers forever.
Liall could smell the scent of Scarlet’s hair. Nenos had combed it with some spice or cologne. It took Liall a moment to recognize the scent of the flame-flower that grew by the sea. Keriss: Scarlet’s court name. It made him sad for some nameless reason.
“Do not confuse Shikhoza with a meddling midwife,” Liall warned as gently as he could. “She is capable of things you could not imagine. I should know.”
The last must have sounded too bitter, even for Liall. Scarlet turned to him. “Is something wrong?”
“Nenos said you were bored,” Liall answered said, looking away.
“I’m usually bored,” he sighed. “It’s not only this place, Liall, I was bored a lot at home, too. That’s why I became a pedlar, so that I would always have something to do.”
“I am beginning to realize,” Liall said softly, his fingers curling around Scarlet’s arm. “Just how difficult our relationship will be, for neither of us will ever be content anywhere.” No, content nowhere. He remembered too much of exile and Scarlet remembered too much of home. Always, they would be at opposites: in temperament, in nature, even in appearance. Scarlet was honesty and innocence and the vital energy of youth. In contrast, Liall felt brittle and overused, cynical and hateful. And yet, he could not help seeking the young man out time and time again, could not help running his fingers through that glossy black hair, touching that flawless ivory skin, devouring that red mouth.
Scarlet gave Liall a quick, odd look for his soft words, and for a moment there was fear in Scarlet’s eyes.
“No,” Liall hastened to say, before doubt could elbow its way in. “I only meant that we must work harder to be pleased in where we find ourselves in life.”
“Either that, or we need to stop paying so much attention to where we are, and more mind to who we’re with.”
The simplicity of the statement was so characteristic of Scarlet that Liall stopped and gave him a quick, impulsive hug, and suddenly the uncertainty of the future –both theirs and Rshan’s– weighed heavily on him.
“You are wiser than your years. If only we had met in peaceful times, where I could be a plainer man. One who could make you happy enough to forget your wanderlust.”
Scarlet pulled away, his dark brows drawing together. “There is something wrong. Tell me.”
“It is nothing. I am merely jealous that Tesk has asked the Queen for permission to paint your portrait, and she has allowed it.”
Scarlet looked so worried that Liall had to kiss that lovely mouth again, seeking to wipe that anxiety away.
Scarlet returned the kiss enthusiastically, slipping his tongue between Liall’s lips and tickling the roof of Liall’s mouth and the back of his teeth, exploring. Scarlet gave a humming little moan that sent sudden heat through Liall’s groin. Liall cradled Scarlet’s face in his hands and kissed the delicate chin, the soft cheeks and closed eyelids, and suddenly the journey back to the apartments seemed far too long.
“I’ve got a wicked idea,” Liall murmured into Scarlet’s ear, licking the spot just under the silken lobe, warm and slightly-furred with tiny, delicate, translucent hairs.
Scarlet hissed in pleasure when Liall sucked on that spot, and pulled him closer. “Idea?” he asked, sounding breathless.
“Here,” Liall said, backing up to one of the many doors that lined the hall. He pushed the heavy wooden door open.