This is Issue #66 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!
* * *
“My Master?” Secta’s voice was low, gentle; he stood near Jet, and when a lull in the conversation occurred, he reached out, attempting to get close once more.
Lucida had slipped off to speak more intimately with Venustus, and Jet found himself moving from grouping to grouping giving blessings and advice and being praised and prayed to, as the night went on.
“Yes?” Jet said, slipping away from the latest, devoted soldiers who were spreading the word of the Guardian’s powers through the ranks, calling for men and women who might have an affinity for devotion to him, to caring for the shrines, for building the churches. He smiled at Secta, and watched the worried face of his famulo shift into a look much like that of the men he’d just left. He dropped his smile abruptly, and turned, gesturing that Secta could follow him. “Let us find a quieter place.”
“Of course,” Secta said, his shoulders dropping. He knew he’d misspoken, knew he’d pushed too far in bringing up Kieron’s name. If only he could apologize — if only there were a way to make it clear he could never replace his master’s first love, that he would never try to–
“Secta,” Jet sighed, when they had finally managed to stand alone. “Was there something you wished to tell me?”
“I…” Secta blushed, his heart in his throat; he squeezed his hands into fists behind his back and said, “I wanted to beg your forgiveness, Lord, I–“
“Shh. Famulo, no. You are not in my bad graces. Stop jumping about in worry, and please, for the love of all that is just, stop making cow-eyes at me, hm? You act like I may wound you at any moment, or that you are to die at my displeasure,” Jet sighed.
“It is only that I spoke too quickly, my Guardian. I… I was careless and cruel with my words, and I never wish to be the cause of any pain to you,” Secta pled.
Jet turned, looking at Secta, and moved to cup his face in his hands. “Listen well, famulo. You will cause me pain. As I will cause you pain. It will happen, from mistakes, from fear, from anger. I will wound you and be wounded by you,” he said, and he leaned in, putting his forehead against Secta’s.
Secta shivered, closing his eyes. “But–“
“Tace, my Secta,” Jet said quietly. “Steel your heart. Love is madness and agony and delight, each in its own turn, and at times, all at once.” He kissed Secta, then, his mouth hot and sweet against that of the page. He put what of himself he could into that kiss, allowing himself to imagine it as a last one. He could not keep being weak in the face of his desires.
My Secta. The famulo leaned into the kiss, silenced, nodding, surrendering, unknowing of Jet’s thoughts.
“Now,” Jet sighed, pulling back, “Let us find my wife, and say our goodbyes to Venustus, hmm? No doubt the family still has much to do. We will leave our tokens of mourning, and we will go back home, and send tokens of celebration, and notes that we are at the family’s disposal, for their needs, as they re-center their house.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Secta beamed.
They rejoined the main of the party, and found Venustus returning with Nixus and Lucida, just as Coryphaeus returned as well. The talk turned to logistics, of plans moving forward, and Venustus quietly related the story of her husband’s letters and his wishes.
“And is this how you would move forward?” Jet wondered. “You have in this time, the right to revoke his will, or instate it, as you so choose.”
“I find nothing objectionable in his will, but I am certain other houses will drag all legal matters through the mud–“
As was occasionally his way, Secta interrupted, blushing as he said, “If it pleases, Domina, the issue of a royal decree of the validity would put it to rest.”
“It cannot be that easy, famulo,” Lucida said, pursing her lips, one brow raised.
Gambling that her expression was only a warning, and not forbidding, Secta continued, “While our beloved Prince ruled still, it was a bit of knowledge I gained; he had had to issue particular decrees regarding our Guardian’s legitimacy as a husband for you. Spoken aloud by you to the appropriate barristers, recorded in your blood for the lawbooks, it becomes fact. New fact replaces old fact — in effect, you control our history, my Queen.”
“Then,” Lucida said, her expression mild and somehow not betraying the sudden surge to run to read every lawbook touched by her late brother, desperate to be close to something of his, some way he still touched the world in which she still lived. “I will simply decree it allowed. Let them come to me to argue.”
Venustus looked at Secta, impressed. “A brilliant young man. You are a noble’s son, paging for our Guardian? Your face is a face that is familiar to me.”
“I purchased the famulo from his family, for his service,” Lucida beamed.
“And he takes initiative in such a fashion?” Venustus’s eyes lit up.
“In all things, Domina. He is without compare,” Jet said quietly, wincing inside himself to see Secta beam for such praise.
“But from a low family, purchased.” Venustus marveled, reaching a wine-steadied hand to pet Secta’s head.
“My family was not low,” Secta blurted, barely not flinching back from the touch.
“That is true.” Lucida looked unconcerned.
“…Secta?” Jet said, looking a little baffled.
“My father was a fourth generation barrister. His great grandfather made the pilgrimage from Viridia to Ilona proper, to pay blood so that he might be blessed to offer his services to Ilona. He knelt to Venator — the man who would have been Lucida’s great grandfather. I would have inherited the family business,” Secta said softly.
“And now you serve,” Lucida said, finishing off a glass of wine, and pouring herself another.
“…and now I serve,” Secta said, nodding, trying not to look at Jet.
Jet looked queasy; he demeaned a brilliant and noble scholar in this way? He’d robbed the boy of his own life, and made him wash his feet, fold his laundry, shave his face? He’d been bought by Lucida, just to do this with his life?
“He would be of such great use to me in this time,” Venustus beamed. “There are several matters I would love your eyes on, famulo Secta.”
“Oh, I–” Secta’s expression was careful not to insult, accepting the honor of being asked for such a thing but refusing it was a delicate balance.
“Absolutely,” Jet said. in a rush, his heart in his throat. Here was his chance. It was a sign — he could not continue on like this, with Secta; here was a way he could give the boy back his life. He would have Secta excel, shine for the woman, and then he would have Lucida make it law, free him. “You must. I… I offer his expertise to you, Venustus, and ask that you report back to me his knowledge in these matters.”
Secta froze, his smile gone stiff. What was this? He looked at Jet, then at Venustus, and did the only thing he could do. He relaxed his smile, bowed his head, and murmured, “I serve.”
* * *