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by L. E. Bryce
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Alternate History
Description: The follow-up to Aneshu! Renowned as the greatest trickster in the realm, the actor Aneshu travels to the distant desert outpost of Malassar to spy upon an unscrupulous vizier who has eliminated every previous spy planted in his household. No one said espionage was easy, but then, no one warned Aneshu that Amiru ked Shaskan was young, devastatingly handsome, and as dangerous as a cobra. To survive, the actor must turn to his most famous role, and perhaps do the unthinkable.
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [151 KB]
Reading time: 85-119 min.
Aneshu had overheard stories about the laborious protocol visitors had to observe before being admitted to the High Prince's inner quarters. Having gone no farther than the great hall, where actors and other entertainers performed for the court, he did not believe the tales until the eunuchs drew him aside into a cubicle and made him undress so they could search every article of his clothing.
"Do princes and ambassadors have to submit to this treatment?" Aneshu handed over his tunic and fully expected the eunuchs to start probing his body cavities for hidden weapons.
The chief eunuch answered with a withering glare before gesturing sharply to his loincloth.
Why Thanaj ked Muhal Dharu wished to meet privately with him, a mere actor and slave, the royal messenger did not specify. Your presence is required in the High Prince's chambers at noon on the morrow. Nor could the man explain why Thanaj expressed no interest in seeing Aneshu's owner. Tahrun handled the troupe's day-to-day business, and was the one to see about arranging a performance.
"The High Prince didn't tell you to bring a costume or a mask," said Elami, "so he mustn't be interested in your prodigious ... talents."
Aneshu smirked at his lover. "And what would he know about that? You haven't been bragging about my cock in the bazaar again, have you?"
Smiling, hooding his eyes in the suggestive manner Aneshu liked, Elami sidled up to him. "Not recently, love," he crooned.
"I'm a bit old to be playing the akesh, don't you think?"
Elami affectionately nibbled his earlobe. "You don't look a day over twenty-three."
Aneshu wished he could summon some of that easy confidence while he stood naked and shivering in the cubicle, with only a thin, latticed screen between him and the hallway. Oblivious to his discomfort, the eunuchs took their time until he felt tempted to ask them if they intended to sniff his loincloth as well as turn it inside out.
After a few more minutes, they returned his clothes to him, and once he was dressed a vizier appeared to lead him into the High Prince's presence. "Lower your eyes when you enter the room, and kneel at the edge of the carpet," said the man. "You must remain so until the High Prince gives you leave to relax." That is, if he does, the vizier's tone implied, with the snobbish drawl Aneshu expected from the royal servants.
Behind a set of imposing double doors, beyond a foyer floored in colored mosaics, the vizier gave him a sharp nudge. Aneshu stared at an elaborate Khalgari carpet while the man announced him. He heard another, lower voice ordering the vizier to withdraw. The door closed, and Aneshu remembered to get down on his knees, where he spent the next several heartbeats surreptitiously studying the foot encased in supple red leather three feet away.
"You may look up, Aneshu," said the High Prince. "Take the stool to your right."
Aneshu waited until he was perched on the low stool before raising his eyes to the High Prince. Even in his simple robe of pleated white linen, Thanaj exuded an air of authority that made him seem much older than his twenty-four years.
"Are you thirsty?"
"No, my lord," replied Aneshu. "You wished to see me?"
Despite his refusal, Thanaj gestured to a nearby servant to pour wine into a glazed ceramic cup and serve him. "We require your services."
"Tahrun ked Nessi negotiates my performances, my lord."
Thanaj nodded. "And we will speak with him, once you are in agreement."
So the mystery deepened. What can he need that he has to speak to me before talking to Tahrun? I'm not in a position to agree to anything. "What can I do for you, my lord?" asked Aneshu.
Thanaj took a sip of wine before answering. "You know of our recent loss." A statement rather than a question--everyone knew how High Princess Mayetra, after so many miscarriages, had died in childbirth delivering a stillborn son. "Naturally our people wish to see us marry again."
Here he paused again. "Do not imagine we are confiding secret information, Aneshu. What we tell you now will shortly become public knowledge. Yes, we intend to take another wife and produce an heir for the realm. However, as our intended bride is still too young to make the journey here to the capital, we must wait."
Aneshu bit back his rising discomfort. What did the High Prince's impending nuptials have to do with him? When Thanaj married the Juvan king's daughter, Tahrun's troupe, like so many in the city, had been called upon to provide entertainment. But then, a vizier had summoned Tahrun to the palace to sign the contract. Princes never negotiated their own business, which led Aneshu to wonder what could possibly be so important, so secret, that the High Prince felt compelled to interview him in private. "Yes, my lord," he replied blandly.
"Princess Ayashi is our kinswoman through the female line," continued Thanaj. "She and her brother were orphaned during the usurper's reign. Ayashi is eleven--unfortunately too young to be wed--and Jahan is eighteen. He has had a superb education, and Malassar is a rich province, but he does not rule even in his own house."
Aneshu held his tongue until Thanaj inserted a pause. "My lord, forgive me my ignorance, but how do I--?"
"How does an actor fit into all this?" The High Prince smiled coldly. "Have patience and we will tell you. Acting is not unlike statecraft: one must always study the role one is about to play. Malassar has been administered for the past six years by a vizier, Amiru ked Shaskan. He is neither the man of our choosing, nor our father's choice. His dealings have been duplicitous, yet not illegal. He is exceedingly careful not to violate the law and necessitate his removal by force. We have attempted to set spies in the household; all have been rooted out and killed. Ambassadors and messengers see only what he wishes them to see. A troupe of dancers and actors, a gift to delight our future bride, is a different matter. You would be guests and emissaries, yes, but as slaves you would also be beneath notice."
Cold dread flooded through Aneshu's limbs. He is going to have me sold out of Tahrun's troupe. The only home he had ever really known since being sold as a child, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. How will I tell Elami? This will break his heart. "My lord, you want me to be a spy?"
"If you wish to call it that," answered Thanaj.
Either I'm a spy, or I'm not: there's no middle ground. "Forgive me my stupidity, but you are a great and mighty prince who could--"
"Simply march into Malassar and remove Amiru? The greatest trickster in the realm might as well say it without the flattery, Aneshu. The truth is that Amiru ked Shaskan holds a royal kinsman and his sister hostage, and we cannot move without endangering both--or without proof that has committed treason. We suspect he intends to do away with Jahan and marry Ayashi, and secure our favor as an able administrator. Such things have been done before. Of course, he cannot move until the lady is fifteen and marriageable, otherwise she automatically becomes my ward, not his." Thanaj stroked his neatly-trimmed beard, his deepening frown belying troubled thoughts. "Amiru has written to us on several occasions, claiming young Prince Jahan is unstable and in poor health--in need of a strong hand to administer his affairs. Suppose this is the truth, and Amiru has kept a veil of secrecy about Malassar for the sake of the young man's reputation--what will our detractors say then?
"See what there is to see, Aneshu, and listen, but be warned: Amiru ked Shaskan shows one face to the world, and keeps his own counsel. Treat him as ambitious, ruthless, and not to be trifled with--as you would a cobra poised to strike. Your master will be compensated for your absence, and paid double should ill befall you."
So he was not to be sold--not quite. The knowledge offered Aneshu little comfort. I am being sent into a viper's nest.
Once he returned from the palace, Aneshu drew his master aside and told him everything. Tahrun grimaced and nodded. "Yes, I'd heard the High Prince wanted you for some special performance, but I'd no idea it meant sending you out of the city." Balling his hand into a fist, he indicated a scroll lying on his desk. Thanaj's lion seal marked the broken wax. "I don't suppose you had anything to say about it?"
"He didn't ask me whether I wanted to go, if that's what you mean," replied Aneshu. "Elami can play most of my parts while I'm gone--"
"Not Gaval the trickster," said Tahrun. "Even if he could manage it, apparently I'm to send the mask and costume along with you. Why the High Prince has to involve actors in this mess, I don't know. You're not even trained for this work. This young prince doesn't sound worth the trouble, and no one will bother about the sister. She's not the only princess Thanaj could marry, and he certainly doesn't have to keep us all waiting another four or five years to produce a son."
Nearly sixty now, Tahrun had not improved with age, and he tended to ramble when upset. Aneshu raised a cautionary finger to his lips. "It's only been two months since the High Princess died. Besides, you and I weren't asked our opinions. What I told you can't go outside this room. The understudies are gossips, and Elami would pitch a fit if he knew the truth."
On the palanquin ride back to Tahrun's house, Aneshu had rehearsed a carefully crafted version of the story for his lover. Monogamy suited Elami, and the hysterics that once marked his youthful love affairs he now poured into his roles. That did not, however, mean he could not make a scene when agitated. "I hate the idea!" he cried. "Why do you have to go? There are hundreds of performers throughout the city. The High Prince didn't have to choose you."
Aneshu tried his best to keep the mood light. "Thanaj didn't exactly ask for your opinion, my dear, and I like to think I'm a cut above the other hacks."
Elami, standing behind his chair, bent down and wrapped both arms around his neck. "You'll miss the last of the summer festivals, and the desert will utterly ruin your complexion."
"The mask paste already does that," said Aneshu. "Honestly, I don't know how you put up with my horrid looks."
"Fortunately, the paste doesn't do anything to your cock."
Laughing, Aneshu reached up and kissed him, slowly at first, then deeper, letting his tongue slide into Elami's mouth. The vizier who took charge of him following the interview explained that a courier would collect him tomorrow, and that he and the other performers would leave for Malassar the day after. Tonight would be his last and only chance to spend time with Elami.
Breaking off the kiss, Elami shook his head. "It's almost supper. Tahrun won't let us be late."
"Later, then," promised Aneshu.
At the table, the understudies deluged him with questions, while Merash looked on in thinly concealed amusement. He won't miss me, Aneshu reflected sourly. Now Merash could lord his first actor status over Elami and the understudies without the second actor's scornful teasing. Aneshu ignored the queries about his trip to the palace, tucked into his meal, and smiled at the thought of his rival finally overreaching himself and trying Tahrun's patience.
"Oh, come on, Aneshu!" protested Salo, the eldest understudy, and the one most likely to take on the third actor's roles while Elami covered the second's absence. "We all know you saw the High Prince, and that you're going away. You've got to do better than 'nothing much' or 'there's nothing to say.'"
"Yes, Aneshu," Merash drawled slowly, "you've got to tell us what Thanaj sees in your skinny carcass that he had to interview you personally. Did he want a private performance?"
Aneshu grinned through clenched teeth. "Had he wanted to see the trickster make an ass out of somebody, he surely would've sent for you as well. You're so funny when you're fuming and about to piss yourself."
"Boys," rumbled Tahrun. "That's enough."
Salo continued to press the issue. "Why you, and not the rest of the troupe?"
"I have no idea," replied Aneshu. "And if you absolutely must know, Merash, the High Prince is courting a young princess. He's sending actors and dancers to entertain her and her family."
Merash snorted. "By sending the trickster to steal her away?"
"Well, nobody said he was eager to marry again."
Once the meal was finished, Aneshu left the table and led Elami upstairs to his room. How many evenings had they done this--slipped away together to fondle each other and make love in the drowsy dusk, then come downstairs again to play at dice with the understudies, talk, or filch a snack from the kitchen? Only tonight was different, the air laden with hushed anticipation that dared not speak of tomorrow or things to come.
Aneshu did not wait until the door was closed. Pushing Elami back against the jamb, bracing his arms on either side to pen his lover in, he bent down to claim a kiss. When Elami twined both arms around his neck and pressed up against him, Aneshu still did not move, but used only his mouth to tease, to taste, and give pleasure, until Elami, cursing softly in frustration, pulled back. "Oh, you're going to make me beg for it, aren't you?"
"Would you have me do it any other way?"
"You don't plan to fuck me here in the hallway, do you?"
Aneshu kissed his cheek. "Not unless you want half the household to try to join in."
Elami's dark eyes glittered with mischief. "Oh, I haven't done that in such a long time."
"Well, you're not going to do it tonight." Aneshu led him inside and shut the door. In the dusky shadows, they began to undress. Oil and linen rested on the table near the bed, and a little water remained in the wash basin. Aneshu did not bother with the lamp.
Elami, naked and erect, sidled up to him for another kiss. "Hmm, you taste like onions."
"So do you." Aneshu's hands slid down to cup his lover's firm buttocks, tracing their curves, squeezing them as he pulled that lithe body against his. Elami's prick teased his belly, even as the younger man reached under his loincloth to tug the fabric loose. Where it fell, Aneshu did not see, or care, not with Elami rubbing his ass so vigorously.
In bed, Elami took control, guiding Aneshu to the edge of the mattress and parting his legs, before dropping to his knees before him. Aneshu regretted not lighting the lamp; he always enjoyed watching a lover suck him off. Too late. Now he had to settle for sound and touch: the wet tongue wrapped around his cock, the hand milking his balls, and the slurping. Elami knew only too well how much he liked loud, messy oral sex, and only Elami could dominate him while pretending submission.
Aneshu did not care, since the evening would end with him spilling in Elami's tight ass. I wish I could come in his mouth, too. Maybe later. Right now, there were other things he wanted to do, and playing with Elami's prick was one of them.
Tangling a hand in his lover's long, curling hair, Aneshu stopped him short. Even so, Elami took his time relinquishing him. "So soon!" he lamented. "I haven't even gotten my finger up your ass yet."
"You're utterly shameless."
Elami grinned up at him. "You like me that way."