This is Issue #31 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Once he was able to move on from the moment, Jet left the shower, dried and dressed, and went to breakfast. He was able to escape the thoughts flying about in his mind by the simple fact that Secta was recovered.
To see him made Jet’s heart light. “You look well, Secta. Very well. I dare say your… illness agreed with you,” he joked, but his voice was thick with emotion.
He embraced his famulo, who immediately clucked at the state of Jet’s hair, and how it needed to be oiled and trimmed.
When they released one another, Jet marveled silently at Secta’s transformation, subtle, but no less amazing. The lines of his face were sharper, and his thin frame had gone from simply slender to wiry, tight with muscle. He moved with the grace of a panther, now, not the meek stature of a servant.
Breakfast went well enough; most of the conversation centered around Secta being well, or Acer shamelessly flirting with Gemma, who alternately encouraged him, and alternately stayed close to Jet and Lucida, making certain they were satisfied with their meals.
* * *
That night, Jet readied himself for bed, used to doing so for the short while Secta was incapacitated. When the groom cleaned up after him, however, he discovered the empty cup of Gemma’s concoction. Smelling it, Secta’s eyes widened slightly. He looked over at Jet, who had settled into bed, and asked, “Master? What’s this?”
“Something Gemma made me, to help me sleep,” Jet says softly. “Gives me… Different dreams,” he says, and his cheeks flush.
“I see,” Secta said, nodding. Once he felt Jet was comfortably resting, he slipped away, running to Lucida’s chambers — only to find her sleeping soundly as well, an empty cup at her bedside. She was laid out in state like some sort of Queen, covered in a thin sheen of glittering oil, the barest sheer covering her naked body.
Furious, Secta turned to see Gemma herself; her flush-cheeked smile and glassy eyes made it perfectly clear she had already had her share of aetheris, and Secta was made even more angry by her flippant attitude.
“What’s the problem, dear famulo? You look angry,” Gemma laughed, twirling in her skirts, half-nude.
“This is the problem,” Secta hissed, thrusting the empty glass in her face. “What are you thinking? To dose him with sonoria radices? You have far exceeded your place! And what in blazes are you wearing? Are those vestments?”
“Secta, please,” Gemma said, instantly recoiling from the glass, looking fearful. “Do not be angry! You do not understand,” she wept. “It must be done. It must! There must be a child — to challenge fate is to invite disaster. Please,” she sobbed, clinging to him.
Secta looked overwhelmed, shocked at Gemma’s easy confession, and then sympathetic to her miserable pleas. “But Gemma.. This… This isn’t the way. You cannot expect me to let such a thing happen.”
Gemma’s eyes glittered with tears as she clung to his hands, as she knelt, begging of him. “Please don’t tell,” she sobbed. “I live to serve the Guardian — please. Please don’t tell.”
Secta sighed heavily, and looked down at where her hands clutched his, and then looked to her face — a flicker of her gaze betrayed her — but it was too late.
Another handmaiden, dressed also as a priestess, brought a candlestick down against the back of his head with a fierce blow. He staggered, falling against Gemma, and blood dripped against her bare breasts.
“No,” he said to her, and slipped to his knees.
She released his hands, and moved to stand over him. “Yes.”
The candlestick came down again, and Secta’s body hit the floor in a boneless heap, unseeing eyes staring out at Lucida as she lay on the bed, his cheek resting in an ever-widening pool of blood.
* * *
The women let themselves into the Guardian’s chamber, led by Gemma. They locked the doors and surrounded him in his bed, singing and praying, pulling away his bedsheets and then rubbing oil into his skin. The more they touched him, the more he responded, until at last, he lay on his bed, no longer asleep, but not at all awake, aching, waiting.
“My Guardian,” Gemma sang, putting her hand against him. “Rise — rise, and follow me. Your consort awaits you.”
“Yes,” Jet said softly. He stood; priestesses on either side of him helped to steady his course, and he followed.
Gemma unlocked the doors that stood in the hidden passage between the Guardian’s chamber and that of his wife, the Princess — several sets of them that had remained locked even after their wedding — and beckoned the Guardian to continue.
They made their way to Lucida’s bed chambers, and carefully walked Jet around where Secta still lay, pulling back the sheer that barely covered Lucida. They spread her legs, revealing her to Jet, and encouraged her to roll her hips, whispered in her ear of her golden-eyed God that had come to claim her.
After all Gemma’s earlier ministrations, after the days of preparation, it took very little to get Jet to lay between Lucida’s legs; they urged him forward, and he complied, reaching for the Princess. Gemma guided him into her lover, and she and the other priestesses prayed and sang and urged them both on, until they were both spent, and then twice more.
By then, the triumph of it had gone to Gemma’s head, along with several draughts and huqqa’s worth of aetheris; she and the priestesses lay in the bed with the both of them, all sweat-slick and tangle-limbed, even as the sun began its slow ascent.
* * *
Jet blinked, trying to focus. He could smell burned flesh.
The sound of Secta’s soft voice, urgent, brought Jet out of his thick-tongued dream faster than anything else. “Secta?” Jet whispered, struggling to sit up.
“Hush now, Master,” Secta said quietly. “Be as silent as you can.”
The first thing he realized was that he was not in his own bed.
The next thing he realized was that he still lay buried within Lucida, who appeared to sleep soundly beside him.
He moved to get up, something like panic rising in his throat, but realized he was surrounded by bronze-skinned bodies, naked and smelling of sweat and incense.
Jet detangled himself as carefully as he could, slipping from the bed. He turned to see his friend, blood covering the back and side of his head. “Secta!” Jet’s voice was surprised and then immediately muffled as his famulo dared to clap a hand over his mouth.
Silence, mouthed Secta.
Jet nodded, promising, and was led back through the doors to his room. He watched Secta lock them all behind him, until they were back in his own room, and he was looking back at the doors in a sort of astonished terror.
“Secta,” he said, his voice breaking, “What have I done?”
“It was not you, Master,” Secta promised. “It was not you, I swear it.” Fury glittered like fire in his eyes as he looked at Jet and growled, “It was Gemma.”
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