Hey, kids. Another chapter for ya'll to read. If you're looking for something else this time around, try Lois Lane's "Before They Were Rock Stars." Any questions, comments, suggestions, songs of love and admiration? Schuydncer@aol.com

Disclaimer: Don't know 'em. Pretty sure they weren't ruling Europe in 1499. Could be wrong, but I thought that was Henry the VIII and Ferdinand and Isabella.

King and Country - Chapter 2 : Admiration
by Schuyler

The servant poured two cups of tea and left quietly. Lance pulled his blanket over himself and settled down for a fourth night before the fire in the King’s private quarters. He and Christopher had spoken of much, but mostly Chris just listened to Lance speak of Spain, the situation, the work of his father, the life of himself. Lance sipped the tea while Chris drew his blanket over his feet. He had begun to insist on the blankets, the palace was drafty and, though Dr.. Bowman told him that the chance was slight, Chris refused to risk any sickness interfering with Lance’s healing. Chris’ throat was dry, he was going to ask the question that had been on his mind since his birthday. “How was your shoulder injured? I know that it was stabbed, but Christina told be that it had been somehow ... jarred.”
“It was the ride. After I was … awoken, awoken and taken, I was bound, thrown over a horse, and carried off to Earl Robert’s ship in Toledo.” Lance drank again before touching his blonde locks nervously. His eyes stared down at the rug; it was obvious that it still pained him to speak of that night.
And Chris looked terribly upset as well. As the King, he should have been outraged that his representative would be so mistreated, but he found himself more worried about Lance and his wounds. Lance was far too handsome and charming to be in such pain.
Chris caught himself. What was he thinking? Nothing, he thought to himself. Only admiring a wonderful young man. And a dreamy little smile played across his lips.

It was after dark when Nickolas came rushing into his mother’s court, flanked by attendants and covered in tears. “Nickolas!” Queen Kristin launched herself out of her chair and ran down the three steps to him. She cradled his face in her palms. “My angel, what’s wrong?” She frantically wiped tears from his face.
“Father lied to me. He’s sent Lance back to England.”
Kristin’s eyes filled with indignant rage. She knew how much Nickolas’ men meant to him. And her attendants knew how that rage would explode when Kevin crossed her or her beloved son. Her voice was even, cold. “Get some rest, Nickolas. Tomorrow we’ll return to Madrid.” His face covered by his hands, Nick began to smile.

Howard was Lord of Barcelona. He lived on a grand estate outside the city in a marvelous villa. But he had decided long ago that the future of his soul was most important and so he sat in a carriage with Alexander Cardinal James, his spiritual leader and Spain’s, as their carriage rumbled through the ill-paved roads of Madrid to a seedy, cheap inn. “The foundation of my plan is all figured out,” Alexander exclaimed.
“Is it?” Howard replied, listlessly staring out of the window.
“What causes the greatest worry to the king? What is my particular area of expertise?”
“The Lord?” Howard didn’t turn to the excited Cardinal.
“The Pope! His Eminence favors England over Spain and France is under the protective wing of England, pushing Spain even further down on the list. The biggest concern of King Kevin’s administration has been marriages. Marriage is a game and King Christopher is winning!” Howard turned to him now, curious. “But we can even the score.” His eyes burned with an almost malicious flame.
“What are you thinking of, my Lord?”
Alexander grinned and leaned back against the leather seat. “I have a few details to work out, but I will tell you tomorrow. And then we’ll announce ourselves to Kevin.”

“Justin!” Justin had been painfully silent all evening, looking as if he’d break into tears when Lance sat across from him at dinner. His doting lover was worried sick. Justin looked up, stunned, at Joshua standing across from him. “Angel, I am worried about you. Tell me what is wrong.” The half-finished letter tumbled from Justin’s hands and he fell into wretched, choking sobs, sinking onto the sofa beside him. “Justin!” Joshua ran to him, clutching Justin tightly. “My only, I am sorry.” Justin was silent, reduced to shaking. Joshua, tears falling now in worry and in fear, scooped Justin up into his arms and ran out into the palace, his bare feet carrying him quickly across the scrubbed white marble floors.
Joshua stopped in front of a heavy oak door and kicked it, whispering to Justin and kissing his damp forehead. Christina opened the door, with her husband Joseph behind her, to see the two men in their bedclothes, stripped to the waist. She instantly reached out to the Prince, the boy she had practically raised, and, touching his forehead, ceased his shaking. “Joshua, what has happened?” She touched Justin’s cheek and he turned towards her cool fingertips. Christina took a step back to let them in.
“He’s been quiet lately, strange. I finally asked him about it plainly and he collapsed.” Joshua and Justin cried together, streaming silent tears.
Christina stroked his blonde hair, cut short. “When did it begin?”
“Well, I think it was Christopher’s birthday. He was fine all day, but after we retired, I told him what Robbie had said, why Lance had come to us, and...”
“Oh God,” Christina quickened her efforts as she took him into her own arms and carried him to his childhood bedroom, her strength seemingly doubled by the panic and fear that splashed across her face.
Joshua tried to launch after her, to follow Justin. Joseph stopped him with one large palm in the center of his chest. Joshua looked up and Joseph just shook his head. “Let’s sit down. Christina will explain everything.”
The next thing he knew, Joshua was sitting on a sofa in the salon, strong Joseph across from him. The chief maidservant brought a cup to Joshua. “Warm milk, sir.” He raised his hand weakly to refuse. She pressed on with a smile. “Lady Christina has instructed that you finish it all.” He knew it was futile to resist Christina, so he took the white porcelain cup, painted with the crests of Joseph, Duke of Oxford, and Christina’s guardian, Pope Martin II.
He was still intently studying the french blue curlicues when Christina returned, wiping her hands on her skirt and sitting beside Joseph. “He’s sleeping now. It’s what’s best.”
Joshua struggled to set the cup down carefully. Every muscle, every nerve was on fire. “Christina?”
She cut him off with a sigh. “He’s just had a bit of a shock, Joshua. No one’s mentioned his name in that way in three years.”
“What name?” Christina paused to accept a fresh pot of tea from her maid, then, “Nickolas.” He wanted to ask why, ask what, but Christina’s blue eyes turned to his. She saw the struggle, how the core of the man was threatening to fall apart. “You’ll worry yourself to death.” She forced a tiny smile. “Finish your milk.” She took a deep breath. “Christopher took Justin with him on his European progress three years ago. First to France, then to Spain, to Madrid. Justin was taken with Prince Nickolas and Nickolas wanted him as well. A few days together and Justin ended up in Nickolas’ bed. Afterwards, Nickolas would have nothing to do with him. This is Prince Nickolas’ hobby, bedding whomever he chooses, then he moves on.” Christina paused, trying not to cry. Her husband’s hand rested in the small of her back, giving her strength. “Justin was just barely alive until he arrived in Rome. Christopher and Britney rallied him a bit and he could finish the tour. But I never saw him smile until you came along.” Christina smiled genuinely at that.
Joshua’s head was spinning. His beloved Justin had been ... abused by a man who had proven with Lance that he could strike again. Joshua knew at that moment that he would give anything to make Justin’s pain disappear. And, for some strange reason, that thought made him warm inside.
Christina had regained her composure. “Would you stay here tonight, Joshua? I don’t think Justin ought to be alone, and I think he’d like it if you were the one to hold him.”
Joshua just nodded dumbly and rose to his feet, stumbling off to Justin’s room. He reached the open door and was frozen. Christina had gotten Justin calm and asleep; Joshua would have killed for that power. Justin looked like an angel framed in linen. His perfect pink lips were trembling, though, and his brow was damp. Joshua slid into bed beside him, holding him close, and Justin stopped trembling. Joshua kissed the top of Justin’s head and smiled.

In the dark of his room, with his covers pulled up to his chin, Lance’s green eyes were open. He kept thinking of King Christopher, of that sweet, wry smile that had crossed Christopher’s face for no reason at all. Such a beautiful smile. And, in the dark where no one could see him, Lance suddenly realized that he was smiling too.