Date: August, 2000
Pairing: It's a threesome.
Warning: It's an AU piece.
Comments: email@example.com OR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013. I am certainly not making any money from them: just having some fun, waiting for Season 8 to begin.
DEDICATED: To all those of you who have been asking for another Threesome. Hope it pleases.
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but let's not forget that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
Go to notes and disclaimers
The attack took the inhabitants of the castle by surprise. It was the middle of the night and they were supposed to be safe, far beyond the line of battle, so far that the castilian had only set up a minimum of guards.
They were swiftly overwhelmed.
Under the command of the invading lord, his men took no prisoners until they reached the tower room that held his method of revenge on the king he felt had betrayed him, confiscating his lands and offering them, as tribute, to the brother king who was challenging his right to the whole of the lands.
The prince, his only son, banned to this castle rather than take his proper place next to his father, fighting for his inheritance, was unprepared for the fact that these soldiers did not listen to him. That they dared place their rough and bloody hands on his person. That they knocked him about, finally rendering him unconscious.
The lord's men wrapped the pretty, pampered pet son of an old king in one of the blankets, took him and the only other occupant of the room, a boy chained to the prince's bed, and made off with their booty.
Their lord was pleased with their capture of his enemy's son, wondered as to the presence of the second boy.
"His whipping boy," explained his lieutenant. "As pretty in his way as the prince is. And he should fetch as pretty a price."
And the lord looked at the two young men who were kneeling in his presence, gagged, arms bound behind their backs, feet manacled.
"I'm not quite certain I agree with you," grinned the lord to his lieutenant. "I need to see more before I judge."
At a signal from the lieutenant, the guards hauled the two to their feet, divested them of their clothing. Sharp knives slid equally easily through rough wool and fine silk, sometimes nicking rough skin, and the fine one too.
The lord looked over the prizes he had in front of him. The prince was tall, slim, lightly muscled from what training had been forced upon him. He was known to prefer books to the sword. He was, thought the lord, probably regretting his preference now. The white body was lightly haired, the chest bare but for a patch of fine princely hair at the sternum. His face was fine- boned -- though sadly, he had inherited his father's nose -- with hazel eyes that revealed his shock at the events unfolding in his oh, so protected life. The guard behind him held his head up for the lord's inspection by wrapping his hand in the long dark hair and pulling sharply back.
The other, the prince's whipping boy -- because though disobedient and in need of discipline, no ungentle hand must touch the prince's silky skin -- was, as his lieutenant said, beautiful in a rough way.
The body was thin, probably through lack of proper feeding, but muscled. He not only had to take the prince's punishments, but also work for the privilege. Though as tall as the other, the shoulders were wider, the unfurred chest broader, the thighs thicker. The face had an exotic cast to it, from the shape of the cat-green eyes, the slant of the cheekbones. No local slave must have been deemed fine enough for their fine prince, scowled the lord. The guard holding his head had had to grab the hair at the forehead as the slave's was cut short at the back. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the discipliner's whip.
"Turn them around," ordered the lieutenant.
The slave's back still bore signs of his most recent whipping, scars of past ones. The prince's was unblemished but for the bruises he had acquired in the past hours.
The lieutenant used his riding crop to point the reasons he had had the youths turned. "When has my lord seen such fine asses?" He shared his malicious grin with his now understanding lord.
The slave understood too. His ass cheeks clenched and he forced himself to relax them.
The prince did not understand.
He and his whipping boy had their arms unbound, their wrists manacled to the wall and there he learnt.
As the lord took his time to regroup his forces, make his way into the exile he had been sent on the whim of a weak king, that king's son provided him with entertainment, he and his whipping boy. For five nights the two were brought to the lord's tent where he and his lieutenant, and one or two other chosen men, favoured them with their attentions.
The whipping boy suffered less. He was already experienced in the ways of pleasing men. The prince learnt that he was nothing more than a hole to fill.
And when the lord, his lieutenant, and their guests, tired of the night's game, the two were returned to the enclosure they shared, chained to a stake and left to shiver in reaction, in the cold.
And there, the whipping boy would wait until no one was around, gingerly -- because even though he was not inexperienced, his body had still been roughly used -- make his way over to the prince he had served, carefully pull the shuddering body into his arms, and offer what comfort he could.
And the prince who days before would scarcely have acknowledged the presence of his whipping boy, let alone permit his touch, wrapped as much of himself as he could around the other's body and cried his terror and pain into his shoulder.
Once across the border and into new lands, the lord took one good look at his two new toys.
"I want the king," here he spat onto the floor by the kneeling prince, "to know that when I return at the head of my mercenaries, his son provided the monies for their purchase. Right now, he couldn't buy me a whore for the night." He sighed. "Still they both made the journey here less tedious. Have them chained in the stables, give them some clothing and see that they eat regularly. We leave for our next port of call in a week. Between that and the voyage, they should find their worth again. And make certain that all know not to touch them. They must be healed for the slave market."
They were taken to the stable, given rough clothes. Each had an ankle manacled and one of the men thought it would be humourous to have the prince chained to his whipping boy. And when they were brought food and water, the prince was forced to serve his whipping boy, to see to his needs before he was allowed water and food for himself. The whipping boy was given a tattered blanket for the night, the prince was told to wrap himself up in the straw that lined the stall they were kept in.
At night, the whipping boy would pull on the chain that linked them and the prince would join him under the blanket, sharing it and whatever warmth their bodies produced.
One night, when he awakened from a nightmare of hands touching him, hurting him, the prince finished wiping his tears on the woollen shoulder of his whipping boy and asked, "How do you bear this?"
The whipping boy smiled. "It is hard at first. But you get used to it. You're new to slavery. I've had years of it."
The prince looked at the face of the youth he had callously had beaten for his temper, his tantrums, his refusal to do anything but what pleased him. "How can you bear to hold me when all I have done is cause you pain?"
The whipping boy shrugged. "We each had our role in that life. Yours to be a prince, mine to be a whipping boy. Whether yours or some other lord's. At least I was fed, kept in warmth. When I was beaten, someone saw to my wounds."
The prince winced. "Wounds that I had placed on you."
The whipping boy said nothing, smoothed back the prince's hair off the strained face. The prince accepted the comforting touch, wondering if he would have been so generous in the whipping boy's place. And wanting to give him something in return.
He tilted his face up and offered the only thing he had left of himself.
"My mother's people come from a far-away country. When I was a child living with her, she called me Mulder. My father hated the name, ordered that it not be used."
The whipping boy was taken aback by the gift, then cautiously offered one of his own. "My mother called me Alex."
And though the night was cold, the two wrapped themselves tightly around each other and found warmth in friendship.
The slaver was pleased with his purchases, the lord with the price he had gotten for his revenge.
The two youths had been purchased together, to the secret comfort of both, and remained chained together at the pleasure of the slaver.
He had had them stand before him naked, recognizing the fineness of the one, the exoticness of the other. Where he intended selling them, he would make more than enough to compensate for their purchase, their maintenance until he got them there.
At the lord's recommendation, he had tested both their skills in pleasing their new master. The green-eyed youth needed some refinement, having the basic skills well in hand. The white-skinned one proved to be a novice, resistant to training, not even attempting to learn what the slaver wished him to learn.
And then, one night, the slaver came upon his new purchases by accident and found them sleeping, tightly clasped in each other's arms.
The choice was his, the slaver informed the prince; accept or the other would be whipped for his refusal to learn. The prince looked at the friend who already bore too many marks on his body because of him, bowed and accepted.
The day before the sale, the two were taken to a special building, given water with which to wash. The attendants gave them loin cloths to wrap around themselves, the only garment they would be permitted to wear at the sale, until a prospective buyer wished to examine them more closely. And then they would be denied even that protection.
The two were to be sold separately.
That night, each clung to the other, offering and receiving comfort, support. The prince had learnt many things during this journey to the slave market, about the cruelty of men, but also about the special friendship that existed between two who were suffering the same indignities, the same hardships. He had seen the dignity with which his whipping boy accepted the fate Chance had sent him, the humiliations that so pleased others. He swore to himself that he could do no less.
The door of the slave quarters was thrown open and the slaver entered bearing a lantern, acting as a servant to some great man who followed behind him. The slaver stopped in front of the two youths who blinked stupidly in the sudden light.
"Get up," ordered the slaver. And kicked at them when they were sluggish in responding.
The man standing out of the light grunted and the slaver held back his booted foot.
The whipping boy and his prince stood, side by side, their bodies not quite hiding from the eagle eyes of the buyer the fact that they held each other's hand.
The whipping boy held his head bowed, as all well- trained slaves did. The prince had not yet acquired that habit. He looked into the dark, trying to see who it was that they were being paraded for at this time of night.
The slaver back-handed him hard for the effrontery.
The buyer noticed that the other slave brought his hand up, as if to defend his companion, then, fist clenched, dropped his hand.
The buyer rested his shoulder against a post and listened to the slaver spin a tale of the prince and his whipping boy. Whether it was true, he had no idea: slavers, in his experience, were always selling "princes" from other lands.
Still, there was a fineness that he recognized as high breeding in the one the slaver had struck, and a beauty to the second with those green eyes of his that had flashed so there for a moment.
The soft voice of the buyer caught the slaver by surprise. He had not yet ordered the two to remove their cloths, so that the buyer could examine just how fine a purchase either one of these would be.
"How much for the two of them?"
The bowed head of the whipping boy rose and two sets of eyes worriedly followed the bargaining that ensued. At one point the buyer totally rejected the slaver's price, announcing that he wasn't made of gold. He turned to leave, catching the despair on the prince's face, the resigned acceptance on the other's. All the slaver saw was his sac of gold disappearing out the door with the buyer and hastily lowered the price.
He offered, what he swore was a good price, if his buyer would be satisfied with only one.
"No," insisted the buyer. "It amuses me to have both."
The final price, though much lower than the slaver had dreamed of, was still more than sufficient. And this man often bought from him. It would be worth the lower revenue to keep his good-will.
"Have them delivered to my residence in the morning," ordered the buyer. "And," he turned to the slaver as he reached the door, "see that they're dressed."
By the time the purchases were delivered to the slave's entrance, the two had learnt that their new master was a general, respected by his allies, feared by his enemies. They were taken by the slavemaster to the baths where they were properly washed, their hair trimmed, deloused, their beards shaved off. The house physician inspected them thoroughly, embarrassing the prince to no end by the careful examination of his anus and rectum. Even the whipping boy reddened at the physician's handling of his genitals, the way his fingers entered his asshole as if searching for treasure.
They were given short tunics to wear, of unbleached linen, nothing more. Fed. Shown the tiny alcove that they would share unless called upon by the General, for any reason.
The slavemaster opened the door next to the alcove and brought them into the General's private quarters. There he appointed them their tasks. To see to the General's clothes; the General, they were warned, insisted on neatness. To see to the condition of the arms the General kept with himself -- even though this was his home, the General did have enemies and never went unarmed. To see to the condition of the room; disorder, cautioned the slavemaster, was intolerable and would be severely punished. To serve the General's food. And to service the General in any manner that he desired.
And then he left them in the General's room.
"Alex?" whispered the prince. "I don't know how to do any of that."
"Don't worry, Mulder," smiled the whipping boy, "I do."
"Then," said Mulder, "you had better hope that I prove to be a good student for you will have to teach me."
The General arrived late that night to find his room in perfect order, a cold supper waiting to be served and his two new bodyslaves ready to divest him of his armour. He was pleased to see that there was a tun of water, standing hot by the fire, for them to wipe the dirt of the day off his body.
He could tell from the surreptitious glances the so- called prince sent his companion that the other was the leader in all this, and found himself wondering, just in passing, as he belted a robe around himself, if there had been any truth in the slaver's story. He shrugged. Even if there had been, the lad was no longer a prince, the other no longer his whipping boy. He had purchased them for their beauty and they would be serving him equally.
He ate, aware that as they waited for their orders, the pair knelt, just out of his sight, side by side, bodies touching. He turned and looked at them. The green- eyed one quickly dropped his eyes. The other followed more slowly. The General grinned: he would learn.
"Do you have names, or shall I name you?"
The prince raised his head, looked on the face of his new master. He had had much taken from him, but to bear a slave's name, rather than his own, that was too much. "I am called Mulder. This is Alex."
Alex raised his head to look upon the master whose hand they had not yet felt: Mulder's tone was still too imperious for a slave's. He had been beaten often for just answering questions that he was not expected to answer.
The General saw the concern the one called Alex felt toward his companion and smiled. He liked a little spirit in his personal slaves. He had no wish for browbeaten ones who flinched at every shadow. If the slaver's story was also true for this one, he knew Alex would be more effective at training Mulder than any beating he ordered administered.
He stood, stretched, yawned. He was tired but still edgy from the day's proceedings. War was on the way, in spite of his attempts to fend it off. There were people in his royal liege's court who were hungry for what they perceived as the spoils of war. They did not take the cost into account. That, they told him, was his concern, not theirs. That's why he was the General, not the king.
He looked at his two new bodyslaves and decided to see just how well trained they were.
He walked over to his bed, unbelted his robe and signalled to them to approach him.
Mulder closed his eyes and tried to find the strength in him that Alex showed as he gracefully approached their master. Then he rose and, as he had done all day, followed Alex's lead.
Their master was as tall as they were, with a furred chest that bore witness to the strength necessary to bear armour and swing the heavy two-edged battle sword with grace. His hips were narrow, his thighs well muscled from years of carrying the weight they did. He was not a beautiful man, thought Mulder, but there was a handsomeness to him, in the intelligence in the face, the bearing of one used to respect and responsibility. The dark, almost black eyes that seemed to see everything.
It didn't detract from the manliness of his body that the General was losing his hair. That he kept it close-clipped at the sides, with a long thin plait hanging between his shoulder blades, in the manner of these people.
Alex had assumed a position between the General's legs, taken his thickening cock between his lips and worked his way down it as the slaver had insisted it be done. Mulder knelt behind their master and, warily, because neither Alex nor the General had indicated what he was to do, spread the hard, muscled ass-cheeks apart and used his tongue to tease the skin behind the heavy ball-sack, work his way up to the puckered button and there, to tease his tongue into the General's hole.
The General smiled his pleasure and allowed the two to service him as they thought tonight. There would be time enough to train them in his particular pleasures.
He had far less time than he thought.
The courtiers and the so-called diplomates stirred matters much more quickly than he would have liked. It didn't help matters that the king they were challenging was young, new to the throne and less patient than his father would have been.
The slavemaster was surprised when the General insisted that his bodyslaves should accompany his tent and personal items into the campaign. Normally, when the General took to the field, only his soldiers served him.
The two were outfitted with clothing more suitable for the days and travelling ahead. The linen tunics were replaced with heavier woollen tunics that went below the knee, leggings that were cross-gartered to above the knees. They were even given solid boots and dark mantles that would double as blankets.
All that mattered to the two was that again they were being kept together.
Every evening, the soldiers were responsible for the General's tent being erected but all else was the responsibility of the two bodyslaves. Their beauty attracted many an eye, but no one dared touch them. They were the General's private property.
Yet there was One who wondered aloud in their hearing just how much longer the General would appreciate their special skills. After all, the General was not known for keeping slaves beyond the point of his disinterest. Yes, there were two of them this time, but eventually, laughed the One, he would tire of them and then they would be anyone's for the taking.
For once, Mulder did not need Alex to explain what would happen to them then. He could see the condition of the boy slaves that had been taken along by the whoremaster on this campaign. One or two, he knew, had already died from their treatment at the hands of the soldiers.
He and Alex never mentioned it, but, at night, when they were released from the General's service to find their mat on the floor at the foot of their master's bed, they held each other tight, each thinking he was hiding his fear from the other.
But the General had discovered his slaves had other talents. Mulder could read. He found him doing so one day over his shoulder as he stood behind him, awaiting his orders. The dispatches were badly written and the General was sounding out what he could decypher of the scribe's hand when Mulder recognized the word and said it aloud.
Out of curiosity, he handed the slave the dispatch and told him to read it to him. He did, as hesitantly as he himself would have, more out of the difficulty of reading the hand than the words.
"Can you write, Mulder?"
Mulder raised an eyebrow with a hint of his former arrogance. "Yes, Master, I can." As if all bodyslaves normally possessed this skill.
The General resisted chastising him for the tone, He looked at Alex who was quietly cleaning some mail. "And you, Alex, do you also read and write?"
Alex looked to Mulder who echoed the question with both eyebrows now raised. In the world that had been the prince's, there was severe punishment for slaves who attempted to learn what were skills destined only for their betters and masters. But he had also been Mulder's shadow in his schooling, there to be punished should his noble master's mind wander, or he make a mistake in his recitation, or throw a temper tantrum because the day was fine and he preferred to go hawking than to sit with his pen.
"Yes, Master," he confessed. "I can read. I don't know if I can write because I've never tried. I do know that Mulder writes with a fine hand because I could easily read his words and not those of the tutor." And wondered what the reaction of this master was going to be.
The General handed the dispatch to Mulder, sent Alex for old parchment, ink and quills from the company scribe and ordered Mulder to recopy the message so that it was legible. That night, when his eyes were strained from trying to read other dispatches that had arrived but were of lesser importance than the ones he handed to Mulder, he had Alex sit at his feet and read those to him.
And when they were done, he thanked them for their efforts. Mulder, he noted, accepted this as his due. If anything convinced him that the slaver had been telling the truth, it was this calm nod of acceptance. Alex was taken aback so much that the General knew that he had rarely, if ever, been thanked for any service. That too made him accept the history of the lad.
The One who watched was not pleased with this development. The more use the General had for them, the longer they would hold his interest. And he wanted them. For his bed. For the pleasure of breaking the fine one to his will, for the pleasure of hearing the other scream from the pain of his particular foibles.
But he was patient. There were more games afoot than just the up-coming battle and one way or another, he would have what he wanted. All that he wanted. All for the cost of patience.
The day of battle arrived.
A fine and beautiful day, thought the General. Pity that so many would die upon such a day as this, to please the desires of men who were safely far away from the confrontation.
The previous night, he had had all his commanders in his tent, going over all possible strategies that might be needed. He was nothing if not thorough. Some, he knew, looking at a particular commander, thought him too cautious. But his caution had kept him victorious and alive.
Before seeking his bed, having sent his bodyslaves to find theirs, he wondered aloud as to their opinions of his commanders. He sat in his camp chair, goblet of watered wine in hand and encouraged them to tell him their observations, their hearing of rumours that permeated the lower levels of his camp. That one drank too much. This other was well-loved by his men, he fought along-side them. This other fought from behind, quick to lay blame, quicker to accept praise. Another complained sourly, in his cups, that his counsel should be sought more because of whom his father was.
All this the General knew, but it pleased him that his slaves were intelligent enough, preceptive enough to come to the same conclusions not having known these men for the years he had.
"Master," asked Mulder, as they settled to catch what sleep they could, "you will win tomorrow, will you not?"
The General thought it pleasant to reassure them. "No reason not to. My men are better trained. We have a full understanding of the lay of the land. And better yet, as my scouts have reported, we outnumber them."
But they also had treachery to deal with. Treachery that he had not taken into account.
The General was standing on a rise, watching as his men easily routed his liege's enemies when Mulder came running up to his master, barely able to breathe out the warning that there was a force advancing on them from camp-side, from behind. And that his master and his forces would be caught between two of his enemies' troops, and that there were more men coming to re- enforce the troops fighting his master's at present.
The General and his commanders quickly reassessed the situation, signalled the forces to regroup and with tactics that had made his reputation, regained the day. It was not the victory he had predicted, but neither was it the rout that his enemies, both on the other side and in his camp, had expected it to be.
Both sides pulled back to count their loses and to prepare to fight another day.
It was late in the afternoon when Mulder accompanied his Master back to the camp to find it blackened, smouldering, littered with the wounded and the bodies of the ones who had been left to protect the camp.
The General's tent had collapsed onto the ground, partially burnt.
The youth who had walked by his master's horse screamed, "ALEX!" and began working his way under the heavy oiled tenting. The General slid off his horse, grabbed the distraught boy by the waist and pulled him back.
"No! Let me go! I have to find him!"
The General shook the slave roughly. He was exhausted, short-tempered and in no mood to put up with Mulder's arrogance. Until he heard the words Mulder was yelling. That Alex had been the one to see the second force coming. That he had taken it upon himself to scout close enough to learn of the troops hidden, waiting for their signal to come out and support the original forces. That Alex had hurried back to camp and sent Mulder to warn the General because he was the fresher of the two.
The General called for some of his abler men to roll back the heavy material, slowly revealing that more than the weight of the descending tent was responsible for the condition of his few pieces of furniture. The dispatch chest that he kept locked had been smashed open, the scrolls scattered about. He knew now that some of the information sent to him had been purposefully wrong. That someone had known it would be used to plan his strategy.
And it was obvious that whoever was responsible wished to leave no evidence behind.
The General released Mulder and followed him to where the soldier stood. There at his feet lay his other bodyslave, in a pool of blood. Mulder gasped, dropped to his knees and reached for his friend. The General grabbed him, not letting him touch the inert body. "Get my physician. Immediately."
Pushing Mulder aside, he carefully checked the body for the wound that had produced so much blood. Blood that was still warm to the touch, that was still bright, rich red. That meant that the boy was not yet dead.
He found a pulse, light, sluggish at the boy's throat. With gentle hands, he turned the boy over onto his back and found the cause of all the blood. He must, thought the General, have raised his arm to protect himself. He had been successful, but the arm had taken the full strength of the blow. The sword had cut through the outer skin, the muscle, even through the bone so that the left arm hung by a thread of skin.
His physician scowled at the sight and at the thought that he was to care for a slave.
"I want him alive," said the General in a tone that indicated he expected to get what he wanted, or there would be trouble to pay. He knew that the arm could not be saved, that it would required cauterizing and that it would be better for Mulder to be occupied while Alex was being worked on. He gently, but insistently, pulled the boy away and, until the physician came to him and informed him that he had done all that he was capable of, that the fate of the slave was in the hands of whatever gods he believed in, the Generalkept Mulder too busy to worry. Then, he went to see the boy for himself, finding him lying naked on a mat, covered with some mantle a soldier had found.
The boy was white, as if all colour had been drained out of him. His left arm ended now midway between shoulder and elbow, loosely wrapped in bandages that would require regular changing should he survive the amputation and blood loss.
Funny, thought the General, that he should owe so much to two slaves when his own men, his own side had betrayed him. He smoothed back the dark, sweat soaked hair and wondered why this slave had taken such risks for a master who could order him whipped, even killed, on a whim.
"Will he live?"
The General looked up to see Mulder, face strained with exhaustion, eyes red, slowly kneel by his side. Even now the General paused to appreciate the unconscious grace of the movement. "I don't know. He's young. He's strong. And he has you."
Mulder looked his master in the face. "I love him," he said, voice so low that the General nearly missed the words. "I've never told him, but I love him."
The General sat back on his heels, reached for the slave who had once been a prince. He pulled until the head rested on his lap, and then he stroked the tears off the boy's face as he gave in to them silently. "Yes, I know you do. And he knows it. As we both know he loves you well. It's easy to see in the way you care for each other."
Mulder rubbed his face against his master's leg. "I did things that got him beaten," his voice was so tight with pain that the General thought his slave's throat would rip from the effort of speaking, "that got him whipped and he forgave me."
The General said nothing, kept on stroking the exhausted slave until he fell asleep.
In the morning, the General left the few survivors, the wounded in a small camp surrounded by guards who knew should anything happen to those they were protecting, that they had better die with them than face the General's wrath.
The General looked over his commanders and placed those he knew he could trust at his side. The ones he was not certain of, he placed at the head, sending them first into battle top bear the brunt of the enemy forces. Only the One dared protest and that One quickly slipped under cover of battle to a secure and safe spot where he and a few trusted men awaited the outcome, hoping, and praying, that the General would not be victorious.
But neither his hopes nor his prayers were answered. By midday, the General was victorious and the traitor and his men had to cut themselves with their own knives, rub dirt on themselves and their horses to make it seem that they too had fought their best.
There were more skirmishes, quickly fought and subdued. And every night, when the General found his tent, Mulder was there waiting for him, to remove his armour, to wash down his body with water kept warm for that purpose, to serve him food and wine. And to tell him of Alex's progress.
Because some hopes and prayers had been answered. Alex survived. He was weak, fevered. But Mulder cared for him, only left his side to attend to their master.
Alex had had the presence of mind that first time on awakening to reveal the name of the man he had seen reporting to the enemy, a man whose body was found still warm when the General sent for him. The man who commanded him swore he had no knowledge of the man's betrayal. The General believed him: the commander was there because he was a royal cousin, not because he had the training, the skills, the experience needed for the position. He was out of favour at court and this command had been his exile.
When the time came for the General to return with his troops to their home base, he arranged for Alex to travel in a cart. Mulder made certain that it was deeply padded, that Alex would make the journey as comfortably as possible. The One was heard to grumble in the General's hearing about pampered bed slaves who would hold up the movements of an army, but the General ignored him and his grievances. He was used to the One's constant complaining. They had grown up together, been trained together, warred together: he no longer even heard the words.
And he continued checking on the condition of his slave during the day's trek. Alex bore his pain in silence, the only outward display of it being the deep furrow that seemed to have taken residence between his eyebrows, over his nose. Mulder, when not needed for other purposes, rode with him, tending to him. Once he came upon them sleeping, Alex on his back, Mulder alongside him, arm protectively thrown across Alex's chest. Alex's eyes opened and the General was surprised to see, under the pain, fear that the boy hadn't the energy to hide.
He found out the cause one evening, after Alex had been settled onto the mat he and Mulder shared.
The physician was quite pleased that his tending had produced a survivor, in spite of the seriousness of the injury, the amount of blood lost and, of course, the fact that it was a slave. The only thing that worried him was the slight fever that wouldn't go away. Still, he told the General, he attributed it to the fact that they were travelling.
That evening, the slave was awakened by the sound of the General's arrival. He watched as their master tossed his cloak onto the bed, removed his own armour - - for Mulder was working with the scribe, and left it on the camp stool for Mulder's attentions.
The General walked to the table, scratching his chest where the straps had rubbed, found the ewer of cooled watered wine and poured himself some. He was drinking the cup empty when he realized that he was being watched. Alex, he realized soon after the amputation, was used to bearing pain, discomfort silently. He knew that the boy's fevered eyes were on the cup that sweated in the heat of the late afternoon. And he knew that, though thirsty, the boy would wait until Mulder arrived to ask for something to drink.
The General refilled the cup, went and knelt by his slave, gently raised him and placed the cup at his mouth so he could drink.
Alex swallowed gratefully. And unlike the water Mulder would give him, this one was flavoured and "Cool," he sighed, his eyes closing.
"Do you like cold liquids?" asked the General, once more holding the cup to his slave's mouth. Alex nodded. Drank. "The waters of my home were always cold."
Alex never talked about his life before becoming a whipping boy. The General had gotten Mulder to talk about his, enough to be able to tell him that his family no longer ruled his homeland, that those who did were those who had sold him into slavery. But Alex was more experienced to slavery, had learnt many years before not to look back.
"Is the land cold?"
Alex allowed the fever to lower his barriers. "Yes. I remember snow most of the time."
And then he opened his eyes, looked into those of his master. "Please, Master, may I ask..." His voice faded and the General saw the despair in those cat eyes.
"You may ask anything, Alex. I may not answer, but you may ask."
The words rushed out. "Please, Master, what is to be done with me?"
"Done with you? I'm sorry, I don't understand."
Alex reached deep within himself. He had started this, but he needed to know. He found the courage to open his eyes and explain. "A one-armed slave is of no use to anyone. Especially as a bed slave, or a bodyslave. One has to have a pleasing body for that. A stump such as mine is not pleasing to look upon. Disfigurements repel. As for resale value, again, who is going to spend money on a cripple? Please," he whispered, "may I know? Will I be sent to the mines?"
The General turned to see Mulder standing there, almost in shock. The slave, shaking his head, dropped to his knees beside the General. "No. You can't do that to him, Master. He put his life at risk to get you the information you needed to beat the enemy. He was wounded defending your goods. You can't do that to him. He's a hero."
The General looked at his slaves. Mulder had thrown his body on top of Alex's as to protect him from being removed then and there on the spot. Alex, barely containing his own fear, was rubbing Mulder's shoulder, offering comfort. Mulder raised his head, tears streaking lines on his dust-stained faced. "Please, Master, if you must send him there, send me with him."
"NO!" Alex shook his head, the first tears the General had seen from him, trailing into his bearded cheeks. "No, please, Master."
"No one is going to the mines," snapped the General in his most authoritarian tones. "Ridiculous even to have considered it." He stoked the dark head on Alex's chest, gently rubbed his knuckles on the gaunt cheeks of the other. "Enough of this stupidity. We are going home. Alex, you will have all the time you need to recover your health. Mulder will continue caring for you. Both of you will remain with the duties you have now. I have no intention of replacing either of you. As for your stump, Alex, I do not see a disfigurement. I see a war wound, a honourable wound of bravery."
He slowly got to his feet. His bones ached. He wasn't, he thought, as young as he used to be. His two slaves were looking up at him, Mulder with relief, Alex still not accepting. As he said, he had been a slave longer, and so was far less trusting than Mulder.
But, as Mulder had said, he owed the boy a fair lot. He hadn't had to put himself into jeopardy to get the information he had. He was a slave and that was not a slave's role. And though he had had no training, he had tried to stop the ones who raided his dispatch chest from taking the documents away, at high personal cost.
"When we arrive home and you are well again, I think it might be time for you and Mulder to receive some training in arms. From what Mulder has told me, he did everything he could to avoid the tedium," he looked to Mulder for confirmation, got a sheepish nod, "of training. You, Alex, may have been given some instruction, but if so, it was too far back to be of any use."
He was pleased with both stunned expressions looking up at him. "Mulder," he ordered gently, "perhaps you should see to our evening meal?"
The General watched his bodyslaves and laughed to himself. Their instructor was shaking his head, growling at Mulder. "Idiot! Think before you attack. You're going to get yourself killed if you plunge into battle without considering your enemy's moves."
Alex, the General noted, was the abler of the two, even though, with only the one arm, he had to carry himself differently to compensate for the loss. The trainer never had to counsel him to coolness: it was ingrained in him.
Once home, Alex had improved quickly enough. He regained the weight he had lost, the stump had healed far better than most such amputations -- probably from the attentive care it received from Mulder. He had immersed himself in what training the General allowed with fervour. He and Mulder continued serving him by day, servicing him at night when he called to them, but there was something different about his slaves, something that he probably had begun noticing on the campaign that, only now when the slaves sleptin his room, he had finally realized.
They both serviced him as he instructed them. Both saw to it that he was sated from their attentions. He knew that they loved each other. Could see it in the way they touched each other, held each other when they slept on the pallet at the foot of his bed.
But he had never heard them make love.
Or had one of his servants snicker in his hearing about their having sex in the bushes as other slaves were wont to do.
At first he thought it might have to do with the fact that Alex was still recovering, but when he considered the situation, he found he never could remember hearing them having sex even before the battle. Privacy was a rare thing in this time. People had sex wherever they could, no matter who was in the room with them.
Raised a prince, Mulder would rarely have been left alone for any amount of time. If he had groped a maidservant, and what lord did not, there would have been a lookout nearby to alert them.
As for Alex, his life as a slave had begun early, when he had been a child. He would have been initiated at an early age. Maybe roughly, but surely there had been someone in his past who had shown him the pleasure of gentle loving?
He carefully watched his slaves as they serviced him. They concentrated on him, offering their mouths, their asses for his pleasure. That was, after all, what they were there for; for his pleasure.
He often had two bodyslaves service him at the same time. He liked the dual attention his body got. But he also enjoyed watching the attentions the slaves gave each other. Like kissing or stroking, even bringing each other to orgasm once he no longer required them.
But other than sleeping, tightly wrapped around each other, he began to doubt that Alex and Mulder ever touched each other in a sexual manner.
Mulder would be easier to approach, always ready to talk. Except when it came to his sexual experiences. And the General finally had to conclude that based on what little Mulder had told him, he had been a virgin in all senses but that of self-pleasure until the night he and Alex had been chained to a wall and raped by the lord and men who had stolen them.
Mulder did tell him about their time with the slaver, the instruction the slaver himself had provided them with. But it was instruction for the giving of pleasure, not the enjoyment of it. And he did let it slip that Alex had been shared by his tutor, the castilian and the captain of the guard.
The General began wondering if either of his bodyslaves had known themselves the pleasure that they brought him.
He was thinking about it one night, not having needed them since he had been at Council and only returned late when the house he resided in was all quiet but for the guards at the front gate. He came in silently as good soldiers learn to move if they care to live, undressed in silence and took to his bed in silence.
Alex, however, was muttering in his sleep. He often relived the losing of his arm, the final amputation, the cauterization. The physician had not thought a slave worthy of something to deaden the pain. Not that there was much that would have done so.
Alex sat up, gasping, his body trembling from the after effects of his dream. Mulder sat up with him, carefully put his arms around Alex and held him close, quietly murmuring words of comfort that only Alex could hear. Alex, the General knew from having heard him, dealt with Mulder's nightmares in the same way.
He swung his legs out of bed and went over to the fire, lit a taper and used it on the branches of candles that sat on the table, the chest by his bed.
"Nightmares," he spoke softly, "are best chased away with love-making."
Alex disentangled himself from Mulder. Both of them rose and came to kneel in front of their master, awaiting his indication of tonight's preference.
"No, not me," said the General. Two startled faces tilted to look up at him. Alex, he noted, also spared a glance for the door, as if he expected it to open and find someone else entering the room, expecting their attentions.
"I know you two love each other. But, have you ever pleasured each other? Driven each other to satiation? No. I can tell by the expression on your faces that you haven't. Yet you sleep so tightly entwined that I doubt that a breath could come between you."
The General knew that Alex would not answer, so he posed the question to his chatty slave. "Mulder, do you not wish to make love to Alex? He is beautiful. He loves you deeply. As you love him. Do you not have the urge to touch him, to make him moan under your touch, to drive him to heights of ecstasy with your mouth, to have him spend himself in your body?"
The General waited, but apart from lowering their eyes, neither youth reacted. He tried again. "Mulder?"
Mulder glanced sideways at the bent head of his lover and shrugged, inarticulate for once in his life. Finally he looked up into the patient eyes of their master. "It hurts so," he whispered and dropped his eyes to the floor. His hand reached out and clasped Alex's and they held tightly to one another.
The General wished to protest that he did not hurt them. He always made certain that they had well prepared themselves for him, that their asses were well oiled for easy passage. And as he opened his mouth, the thought came to him that, though this was so, he also never saw to it that there was pleasure in his penetration. That when he used their mouths, he considered his own sensations, never theirs.
And their only experiences with sex, he suddenly realized, had been rape. That though he did not actually violate them, he also never touched them apart from the pleasure it gave him. That their experiences being what they were, the fact that they could sleep in each other's arms without worrying about being forced, about being taken selfishly, was probably all that they could handle. Mulder held onto Alex because he had needed Alex's strength to survive the past year. Alex held on in turn out of need for some touch that was not painful. He had not denied Mulder's statement about hurt though his training had conditioned him to it.
The General's hands caressed the faces of his slaves and gently insisted that they raise them. Both, he realized, were looking up at him with slaves' expressions: resigned, expecting to be punished, hurt for something they had no control over. And the General was stunned to find that he never wanted to see those expressions on either of their faces again.
"On the bed," he kept his voice gentle, knowing that this night, he would require a greater amount of trust from them than he demanded from his commanders.
As one they rose, went and knelt on the bed as he had trained them to do.
"Alex, lay on your back."
Silently, Alex obeyed. He turned his head to watch the General, eyes wary. Mulder reached out and grabbed his hand. The look he sent the General was afraid.
They are lost, thought the General, both of them. And they hold onto themselves like lost children who have found each other in the dark.
Maybe, thought the General, he could show them a way out of the dark.
Like Mulder he knelt on the bed, on Alex's other side. He smiled, he hoped, reassuringly at the two children on his bed. No, not children. They were men, both of them. Men with courage, who had faced hardships, upheavals, brutality and who still, somehow, had retained their spirits.
"Mulder, as I do."
"I will not hurt him," Mulder said, his voice soft but ready to accept any punishment for this decision.
"No pain. No hurt. I promise. It is time the two of you learnt the pleasures of your own bodies. The joy that you can find in each other. Do as I do."
The General reached over and took Alex's hand out of Mulder's, lay it flat on the bed. "Be careful of his shoulder. You should know just how much he can be touched there."
And then the master bent and took his slave's mouth, playing with it, exploring with his tongue the wet recesses, drawing his slave's tongue into his own mouth. He withdrew and nodded to Mulder. And Mulder tasted not only his lover's flavour, but that of their master as well.
While Mulder played with Alex's mouth, the General gently smoothed the thick sable hair. When Mulder looked up, his lips wet, the General smiled. "His neck. The underjaw can produce some interesting reactions."
Mulder discovered a spot just under Alex's ear that made him mew. While Mulder continued on his exploration of Alex's jaw, throat, ears, the General took Alex's hand in one of his, slowly brushed his fingertips up and down the sensitive inner skin. The hand he held in his tightened its grip then, as if remembering whose hand it was, tried to let go. The General merely held on stronger, not painfully, just hard enough for the man to understand he was not letting go.
Mulder was a quick learner. He reached the collarbone and checked to see what new instructions there might be. The General grinned. He placed his free hand on Alex's shoulder, began a slow massage of the muscles there. Mulder copied him, stopping at the beginning of the biceps. Ah, thought the General, understanding that to go further would be to cause pain. He nodded and brought his hand to the chest, rubbing a circle that grew smaller with each passing until his fingertips were encircling the small brown tit. Then he lowered his mouth and teased with his tongue, flicking the hardening nub, sucking on it until Alex made a sound that immediately captured Mulder's attention.
The General looked up. "He is not in pain. Mulder, trust me."
Alex turned his face towards Mulder, opened his eyes. "It is not... pain. It is sharp, but it is not pain."
Mulder carefully lowered his mouth to Alex's other tit, and began duplicating the General's moves. With a smile, the General watched Alex's eyes grow too heavy to keep open. He dropped his mouth back to the nipple he was tormenting and grinned to hear the louder gasps of pleasure Alex could not hold back.
After that, Mulder copied him without question. Now and then, he would look up and check to see how Alex was reacting. Sometimes he would see an expression that made him think something they were doing was painful, but then he knew if it truly were, Alex would not show it.
The General slowly worked his way down Alex's chest, his stomach, the long flank. He showed Mulder how to use his mouth, his teeth, his fingers, his hands to work magic on his lover's body. To make him writhe and twist. And all the while, the General purposefully avoided the rampant cock that wept for attention.
Alex's hand had forgotten whose held it. It gripped painfully tight, but the master did not release it. He worried that if he did, it would jar the man who was silently calling for completion. He leaned over and whispered in Alex's ear, "It's all right to make noise. To moan, to call out your lover's name. No one will beat you for it."
Alex's eyes sprang open and, for a moment, the General could see the training he had gotten at the hands of his keepers. He bent and claimed Alex's mouth as Mulder finally could no longer resist the erect cock calling to him. He took Alex into his mouth as he had been trained to do.
But, from the General this night, he understood the pleasure of going slowly. He took only the reddened glans into his mouth, circled it with the tip of his tongue, sucked on it with just enough pressure to make Alex's hips jerk.
He released it, traced the thick undervein with his tongue and then abandoned cock for ball-sack. He had to hold Alex's hips down so that he could amuse himself moving back and forth between cock and balls until Alex screamed "Mulder!" and he raised his head to see the General grinning his approval at him as he reached for the vial of oil he kept by his bed.
And there he almost lost Mulder.
"No. Not me." The General had understood the flash of fear, the look of betrayal, that this had all been a game for their master's pleasure.
"Dip your finger in the oil. Now carefully, tease his hole open. As you do with your tongue to me. Go slowly. We are in no hurry. And you want to use your mouth again on his cock. It seems to be withering from lack of attention. That's it. Court it with your mouth. It deserves all the pleasure you can give it. Now slide more of your finger in. Careful. Now then, use the pad of finger to press toward his cock. Gently. Feel something hard, like a small stone? Now a little more pressure."
Alex's voice rose in pleasure. The General smiled at his student. "Yes. Now finish him at your leisure."
And the General lay back, handling his own erection as he watched Mulder tease and play with Alex until the sound of Mulder's name coming from the man was almost incoherent. And then Mulder allowed him to come, eagerly swallowing the creamy emission until he could not swallow fast enough and it began streaming over his lips and down his chin.
The General had trained them well for the moments after orgasm. Mulder carefully cleaned off the softening cock, but instead of going for a cloth to finish the job, he snaked his way up his lover's body and claimed his mouth. The General watched as Alex's tongue licked the last of himself out of Mulder's mouth. Mulder raised his lips from the other's so that he could look into the sated eyes of his lover, then he reclaimed the mouth for a kiss so sweet the General turned his head to allow them some privacy. He looked back only when Mulder left the bed to return with a dry cloth to wipe down Alex's body.
And only then did the General release his grip on Alex's hand. Lids heavy, eyes greener than the General had ever seen them, Alex raised their hands to his mouth and kissed the back of the General's. The General smiled at the man falling asleep in his bed. "It would be a shame to wake him," he whispered. "Mulder, there should be room enough for you on his other side."
And the General reached for the bedclothes and covered both his slaves before he lay down on the edge of his own bed and pulled what blankets were left over onto himself.
He was late again the next night. The Court was a place of intrigue, of factions that moved back and forth like a tide that was controlled by the king's fancy.
The courtiers who had counselled war were not pleased with the final results. The cost had been high, too high to reap the rewards they had calculated.
And then there was the problem of the traitor. Who still had not been discovered.
The General was surprised to find his bodyslaves waiting up for him. Yet he was pleased to have his court garments taken off him, to have warm water rinse the smell of the perfumed rancidness of the Court off his skin.
He looked at the two who knelt at his feet and wondered if they had moved on in their discoveries of pleasure by themselves.
"No, Master," said Alex.
"We belong to you, Master. Alex explained that we needed to wait for your permission." And Mulder looked up at his master, eyes bright with anticipation.
The General smiled into his cup of watered wine. He drank some, then offered the cup to Alex and then to Mulder. This sort of instruction, thought the General who had spent the day explaining the facts of war to a nobility that did not wish to learn, let alone listen, was a pleasure in and of itself. The discovery surprised him a little.
"On the bed. Mulder, on your back."
The General dropped the robe he was wearing and went to take his place on the bed. He made himself comfortable against the headboard, ready to instruct should instruction be required, when Mulder raised his hand and waited for it to be taken.
The General was surprised, yet touched, by the gesture. So his slave needed more than his permission. He slid down from the headboard and knelt by his slave, tightly holding onto his hand. He knew without their saying anything that Alex would not touch Mulder until he gave the signal. He lowered his mouth to his slave's, teased the pouty lower lip before tasting the nectar of his slave's mouth. Mulder made a small sound that strangely affected the General. He sat back and let Alex taste the special sweetness that was Mulder.
As with Mulder, Alex copied the General's exploration of his lover's body. With a shared smile -- Alex's hesitant at first; he was far more reticent than Mulder -- the General added improvisations from the first night's strategies. Mulder was more vocal than Alex.
And again, when Mulder's cock was weeping copious pearls of tears, the General sat back and enjoyed watching his slaves discover the joy they took in each other.
Alex needed special instruction for he could not balance himself with one hand while he played with Mulder's ass with the other. And his stump was still too sensitive to bear his weight.
"Raise your legs, Mulder. Let Alex rest his shoulders against your thighs. Lean over, Alex. Trust your Mulder. He will not let you down."
And Mulder's scream of surprise when Alex found the small stone of pleasure made the General laugh out loud.
He was still chuckling to himself when, after he had been cleaned off, Mulder slowly turned to his side, Alex resting against him. With a whoop of delight, the two slaves knocked their master onto his back, demonstrating to him how well they had learnt these particular lessons.
And the General discovered what pleasure there was in having the hands that touched him, aroused him, were hands that did so of their own volition. Of having his hands play with the sex of one slave while the other willingly brought him to the edge of orgasm, only to have them suddenly change positions and the playing begin all over again.
The General was a man of war, had been trained to be so since as a child. Oh, he had been married, but on her death and that of his newborn son, he had never bothered to remarry. He used whores when he felt like it, slept with the women of the nobility who wanted favours from him for their husbands, their sons the few times he was in Court. He kept male bodyslaves who were trained to his pleasure. But never before had he realized that there could be such satisfaction in the pure delight of two who had suddenly discovered the pleasures of sex and acted as though it was a personal gift of his to them.
Every night they waited for him, growing braver, more daring in the games they played with him, with each other. He lay one night, Alex curled tightly against him, his arm wrapped around Mulder who lay snug against his other side and realized that there was laughter in his bed. That Alex smiled with his eyes and actually laughed aloud in this bed. That Mulder, more daring of the two, often directed their play on the General's body, laughing at the reaction of their master who thought that only certain things, certain manners were what his body desired.
And now, when his cock was in their mouths, or up their asses, he was aware of their feelings, that they too needed the sensations he had only considered for himself. And that his reward for this "sacrifice" was the light in their eyes when they saw him, the eagerness with which they shared new discovers -- not just of their bodies, but of world around them. As a whipping boy, Alex had been confined to castle grounds. As a prince, Mulder bad been tightly controlled, not even allowed the slight freedom Alex had known.
They made him laugh with their observations, and he badly needed laughter. The tide in the Court was changing. There were whispers when he entered a room. People who had desired his attention now scurried away, fearful they would get them. There were rumours that the traitor was one close to the king who thought he was better than his liege lord. Who thought his skills were what saved the country time and again from the disastrous decisions made, and that his proper worth was not being recognized.
The General's enemies smiled more openly, his friends began deserting him.
He had requested a meeting with his royal lord, one on one, as deserved a man who had proven his trust, his respect, his loyalty to his king. He was angry that his word was suddenly suspect. His bodyslaves dressed him carefully for the meeting, worried by the tension they felt in their master's body. He smiled at them as he dusted some unseen speck of dust off his sleeve.
"Well, do I look courtier," he spoke the word with disdain," enough, do you think?"
Mulder cocked his head as though seriously considering the question. "Like a peacock, Master."
And though the three laughed, Alex's eyes were worried, Mulder's concerned.
"Amuse yourselves. I shall be back before sunset."
But he wasn't.
He came back to his residence, stunned beyond belief that the king would believe him capable of betraying him, of dirtying his honour, of leading his men into sure death, all for his own betterment.
He had no sooner descended from his horse when his home was invaded by the king's personal troops. The men who rushed to his aid were killed, his servants brutally murdered. As he was finally restrained, bloody but unbowed, the One, the royal cousin so often in disgrace, came up to the man in chains. "Find me the boys," he ordered, "his bodyslaves. I want them alive, unharmed. They," he smiled coldly, "have been promised to me."
The man who had once been general slowly came back to himself, painfully pulled his head up and rested his forehead on the rough stone wall.
The last questioning had been particularly brutal. His wrists were hanging from manacles that were overly high, forcing him to stand on the balls of his feet, when he had the strength to stand. His back throbbed from the whip's wor. His ass...he could feel lines of wetness that were blood and the leavings of the guards who had used him roughly.
He wondering in passing how Alex and Mulder had found the wherewithal to survive such dehumanizing touch. He could bear the torture. He was a soldier. He had known pain, had been trained to bear it. But the rape was soul-destroying. Alex had been a child. Mulder, though older, a child still in so many ways. Yet they had endured, accepted. Now he respected their ability to go on. And he understood the reason they had clung so to each other. He only hoped that their new master would allow them that comfort, but, knowing what he did of the One, he could only pray that their deaths be swift.
There was some noise in the hall, not loud, probably a rat of some kind. Then he heard the key in the lock and went deep within himself to find the courage to accept what they were next coming to do to him.
The door opened. There was a soft gasp behind him, then... "Master? Master! By the gods, Master, what have they done to you?"
And the man opened his eyes, painfully turned his head to see Mulder at his side, a ring of keys in hand and him trying one then another in the manacle which suddenly released. His arm fell like a dead weight to Mulder's shoulder. Mulder braced it against the wall, hurried to the other side and released the other manacle. His legs refused to carry him for a moment and Mulder had to insert himself between wall and man. "Master, please, you're too heavy for me to carry. You must walk. Quickly. We must leave here."
Somehow, the military training of years reasserted itself. With a soft groan, because he knew they must not attract attention, he braced himself, locked his knees and, leaning heavily on Mulder, took the steps that brought them out of the cell. As they made their way clumsily down the hall, he saw the body of one of the guards, lying, his throat cut. There was a second in a pool of blood as they mounted the steps. At the top, Alex stood, short sword in hand, its blade shining wetly by the torch light. Mulder moved around to the man's other side, allowing Alex to help bear the weight, all the while leaving his right hand free to defend them.
The man who had been general remembered little of their journey out of the keep's dungeons, out of the fortified walls through a way only servants and slaves knew, to a copse where one of his old servants stood waiting with four horses, three for riding, one packed with clothes, monies, supplies for their escape.
The man was quickly dressed, somehow gotten into his saddle on his favourite stallion.
"Tie me to the horse," gasped the man. "If I faint, I won't hold you back."
And after they did, he thought he imagined Mulder grabbing the old servant who had been with his family since birth, holding his head back as Alex cut his throat with one sure stroke.
The sun was colouring the horizon when Alex finally called a halt to their flight. As the old man had promised there was a cave where they could take refuge while binding their master's wounds, allowing the horses some time to recover from the swift pace he had set.
While Alex boiled a pot of water on the small smokeless fire, Mulder undressed their master and carefully prepared the ointments, the dressings he had learnt to use when tending Alex. Together, Alex following Mulder's orders, they cleaned the wounds, doctored them, bound them. Alex heated the bottle of broth, ate some of the cold chicken while Mulder spooned the soup into their master. Then he ate while Alex slept, close to the man who had slipped into sleep while Mulder had been feeding him. When Alex woke, Mulder feed their master more of the broth, then slept his turn, arm protectively thrown across their master's chest.
It was dark when they took up their journey, their master once more tied to his horse. They went north rather than south because no sane man went in that direction. There were monsters who lived in that land. Forms so grotesque, so villainous that the mere touch of a finger would freeze a man to death.
Alex had come from such a land. And though he had been only a child, he had memories enough of that time to know that their only chance lay in the north.
On the fifth day of their travels, they found a small hut that had been built into the side of a hill. Mulder checked it to find that the roof still performed its duties, that the earth floor was dry. There was enough room for the three of them to sleep, a small fireplace to provide warmth. Alex found an enclosure to the back that was overgrown with sweet grass and that with just a little work would keep four horses secure.
The man who had been general woke one day to find the sun tracing a path along the blanket that covered him. He watched it, wondering where he was and how he had gotten there.
"You are awake, Master." Mulder smiled as he felt the man's forehead. "And cool again. Are you hungry? Could you take a little broth?"
Alex stuck his head into the room. "Master." His voice showed his pleasure.
The man allowed them to feed him, to clean his body, to dress his healing wounds. Then, though he wanted answers to so many questions, he yawned and fell asleep.
The next day, he felt stronger. Though he often thought that his body was growing old, his strength helped him regain his senses quickly, so that by the next afternoon, sitting propped up against his saddle, he learnt of the events that had brought them all here.
The old servant had known that the king's fancy was not a reliable thing. When he had first heard the rumours of the king's disfavour with his General, he had quietly prepared a pack for the General's escape. He had even, as the days had continued and the rumours gotten stronger, spirited the pack, several of the General's horses to a secret place.
The slaves had been preparing a surprise for their master, out in the garden, when the attack had occurred. They had hidden in the bushes, watching the killings take place. Only when Alex had determined they were safe, had they come out of their hiding place to find the servants and slaves had either been killed, were dying, or had fled. All except the old servant who had also been hiding. Together they had planned their master's rescue.
The man who had been general was astonished that the two bodyslaves acted as if this were nothing. They had penetrated the keep, found out where he was being held, quietly, proficiently killed the guards who were between him and freedom, and had found their way to this place using an old map that Alex had once found among his charts.
He looked at his two slaves and knew that though he had purchased two boys, they were now men. Moreover men he could respect, who had proven their worth as warriors. Still, he did wonder about one detail.
"Why did you kill my old servant?"
Alex and Mulder exchanged looks. Mulder sighed. "He made us promise to do so. He was afraid that if he were caught, they would torture the information of our direction out of him. And he was dying. In a great deal of pain. That was his price for helping us free you, a quick death."
The man closed his eyes and offered a prayer for the man who had been his first tutor. "He showed you where to put the blade for a quick death, how to cut a throat."
The two nodded.
"And would it not have been a better idea just to kill him and make off with the horses by yourselves?"
Alex smiled. "No, Master, It might have been a better idea, but it was not what we wanted. We wanted you with us."
"Why?" asked the man.
Mulder laughed softly. "You are part of us, Master. We are not complete without you."
"Do you not know," Alex's voice was gently curious, "that we love you?"
"It is not a wise idea to love a master," the man said.
"But we do not love the master," started Alex.
"We love the man who loves us in return," said Mulder.
He reached out his hand and took one of the man's in his. Alex smiled and took the other in his one.
And together they held on tightly.
On the road to the far north, there is a farm where horses are breed. The stallion and the three mares from the south made a good foundation for the breeding stock. Their sons and daughters are breed with the hardy local ponies and those progeny are born with heart, intelligence and endurance.
The farm is owned by three men, each known for a particular skill.
Alex, though he has only one arm, can tame the wildest pony, some say, with only a word or two whispered into the ear of the animal.
Mulder can doctor man or beast, scribe a letter to a loved one.
The third is known to the area for his hunting skills, for his ability to peel a pelt off a carcase with nary a nick.
For which ability, he now bears the name Skinner.