CROSSROADS OF HONOR
Gay love story. Adult. Beginnings. Historical. Explicit sex.
The crown prince of an ancient Mediterranean city state spares the life of a vanquished Macedonian naval officer and both learn a life lesson about friendship, honor and love.
King Elfaad stood on the topmost parapet of the palace and surveyed
his domain. He had stepped out of his sleeping chamber to welcome the
rising sun, and now turned from the breathtaking view of the
Mediterranean to the West to see the lines of two caravans
approaching the city from the distant mountains to the East. He gave
a rare smile.
The wealthy city-state of Purgim was well situated in all respects. It sat on the edge of a plateau 1,000 feet above the sea at a crossroads between the cities of the Mediterranean and the trade routes inland. Its harbor could and often did hold a hundred ships offloading the wealth of cities ringing the Mediterranean, to take on the goods brought by caravans from the East.
Life was good in Purgim and its king ruled with a strong hand to keep it that way. Citizens paid no taxes. Fees from the ships and caravans maintained the city, the royal house and a standing army to protect the harbor below and the caravans as far as the mountains to the East. All concerned were rich and well fed.
Suddenly, the sentry on the west wall sounded an alarm. Elfaad shaded his eyes to scan the water. There, on the horizon, sails, dozens of sails. An attack? What fool would attack Purgim from the sea? A thousand feet of cliffs, caves and wild outcroppings could shield the entire Purgimian army. And the only route from the harbor to the city was a narrow camel trail through the cliffs.
The alarm spread quickly to all quarters of the city. Citizens ran to and fro spreading gossip and panic. Soldiers poured from the barracks buckling their armor and began to mass in front of the armory.
Elfaad and his bodyguard made their way from the palace to the west wall. The king did not have to dress for battle. His son, Prince Rafik, would be in full armor by this time forming his warriors. Elfaad had recently made Rafik commander. Nevertheless, he sent word to keep two garrisons on the east wall in case the ships were the diversion for a land attack, unlikely as that might be. The Persian Empire had not sought to extend its borders in several generations, and Elfaad's father had made peace with Troy and Halicarnassus to the north and south. Who was this enemy?
The sails grew nearer. The horizon filled with them. Elfaad watched his warriors take their positions from the top of the plateau to the harbor below. The last of the trading ships fled south toward Rhodes while soldiers set up catapults before the stone quays. Elfaad shook his head sadly; those war machines had stood in readiness for three lifetimes without being used.
A sentry with young eyes identified the sails at last. Macedonian! Elfaad damned them in the name of all the known gods. It was to be an attack from the sea then. Merchants in Elfaad's employ had returned from Thessalonica with rumors that King Andros was raising an army from all parts of Hellas. So that king sought Purgim for a Macedonian gateway to the East. Well, the gods, the cliffs and the Purgimian army would try to make and end to that notion this day!
A knot of anxiety twisted his stomach as Elfaad stepped to the edge of the wall and watched Rafik take his place half way up the cliffs. He was pleased with his son's leadership ability and bravery in battle against the bandits that never tired of attacking the caravans, but Rafik and his army were untried in defending the city against an attack of this magnitude.
Elfaad asked the gods for divine justice as the first wave of ships entered the harbor and the battle began.
As the ships reached the quays, Rafik ordered archers to send a rain of arrows down on their decks. Undaunted, the enemy swarmed ashore into hand-to-hand combat. More ships filled the harbor, so close that the invaders ran from ship to ship to reach land. Rafik ordered the catapults to hurl wave after wave of flaming projectiles on to the ships. The resulting fires drove retreating warriors back into their fellows trying to get to shore. Then, the Purgimian soldiers pulled back into the cliffs while their comrades rained arrows, lances, stones and hot oil down on the quays, reeking havoc on the Macedonians trapped there. As more Macedonians swarmed ashore to escape the burning ships, they trampled and smothered the survivors of the raining death.
The king's eyes burned from the smoke of flaming ships; his ears rang from the cries of dying men; his nostrils filled with the smell of burning flesh. Elfaad gripped the cold stone in an effort to anchor his senses to the familiar. He was accustomed to death, but only against the small groups of bandits that attacked the caravans. His mind reeled at horror on this scale.
Within mere hours the carnage was complete. The Macedonian army was no more. Most of it was dead: hacked, burned or drowned. The few hundred survivors were herded up the camel trail to the city. Rafik allowed three ships to escape to deliver the news of the defeat to the Thessalonian king.
Crowds of cheering citizens lined the central avenue of Purgim as the great East Gate opened to admit the victorious army. The cheers became a thunderous din as Prince Rafik entered. All eyes found him easily. He was a head taller than any of his men, his long dark hair shining in the morning sun. The people were in awe of their future king. He was young and handsome, yet big and imposing. He was a fierce warrior, yet calm and regal at palace audiences. Ministers, merchants, soldiers and common camel drivers would have said that he was distant and grim, but wise and fair.
While his troops passed in review, Rafik stopped a short way from the palace steps and turned to Polon, his bodyguard. “Signal to have the prisoners brought forward.”
The remnants of the Macedonian army came to a ragged stop before Rafik. He spoke to them in a clear loud voice, in their own language. “We do not keep prisoners. It is our custom that the vanquished are sold into the service of any master that will pay the price. We will tend to your wounded and bury your dead. If you accept your lot, you will be free to return to your homes in seven years.” To Polon he said, “You reported that one Macedonian officer was captured?”
Polon signaled and four Purgimian soldiers marched forth with two Macedonians half carrying their wounded officer between them. They stopped before Rafik, and the officer straightened himself and stared directly ahead. Rafik raked the fellow with his eyes. The man was his own age, 20 at most, bleeding from a wound just below the breastplate of his armor, and from a gaping wound on the calf of one leg. He was filthy with sweat, blood and dirt; his armor almost hacked from his body. He stood at attention, eyes shining, but his tired muscles and wounds betrayed him.
Rafik turned to the guard. “What information have you obtained from this man?”
“Nothing, My Lord. He will only say that his name is Lysus. He was captured on their command ship standing astride the body of their fallen leader. He fought fiercely. It took three of us to subdue him and take him alive. He wears like armor and crest as their commander.”
Rafik said, “You have done well.” He stepped forward, staring intently into Lysus' eyes, and said in the dialect of Thessalonica, “You have honored your commander.”
Lysus' dark eyes blazed. “I have honored my father.”
Rafik knew what he was about to ask was useless, but he had to ask it for the benefit of his men and the citizens of Purgim. “Your father, the commander is dead; all but a few hundred of your army is dead; ships bearing the news of your defeat are under sail to Thessalonica. You are the only living officer. Will you bend your knee to me in surrender?”
“Never!” Lysus said with as much strength as he could muster. The effort almost made him lose his balance.
“You do yourself honor also,” said Rafik evenly.
Polon stepped forward and asked, “Shall I force him to his knees, My Lord?”
Rafik stopped Polon with a hand. “No. Look at him. He uses what strength he has left to hold himself erect. In a few minutes he will fall faint and I must decide what to do then.”
Polon laughed, “That is a simple matter, My Lord. We drag him into the dungeon and make him tell us what he knows before he either dies of his wounds or we kill him.”
Rafik said, deep in thought, “That is not an option I wish to use. Look at him. He is half dead, yet see how bravely he stands. He will tell us nothing on the rack.” Then fiercely, “By all the gods, Polon! We have slaughtered thousands of Macedonians and sacrificed hundreds of our own men! Isn't that enough killing this day?” He turned and looked at the citizens of Purgim. “Look how intently they watch us. They have been badly frightened and they want us to take him to the dungeon and act out their revenge.” He looked at the palace, then back at Polon. “Perhaps there is another way. Polon, do not question what I am about to do; simply attend me.”
Polon couldn't follow Rafik's train of thought. “As you wish, My Lord.”
Just then, Lysus began to sway and fell to the ground.
“He has fainted at last,” Rafik said with a sigh. He stepped over the limp form, lifted it into his arms, and walked toward the dungeon door of the palace. A thunderous cheer went up from the crowd.
Two guards quickly opened the door that led to the bowels of the palace. Rafik entered and Polon quickly followed, waiving off the guards. When they were alone, Rafik turned to the stairs that led to the upper floors and began to speak quickly. “Polon, I am taking him to my chambers. Summon the cook and physician. Swear them to secrecy. Dismiss the other servants. Have the cook bring wine, hot broth and bread, and tell the physician to prepare to minister to this fellow. I will answer all your questions later.”
When Rafik entered his apartment, the cook and physician were waiting. Polon closed the door and, at a look from Rafik, stood guard.
Rafik placed the limp form on a low couch. With a look at the physician, “Come Delrhun, remove his armor, and then wash his face with cool water. Look to his wounds and tell me how he fares.” With Lysus' bloody and broken armor removed, Rafik said to the cook, “Thaxlas, bring food. He must receive nourishment to recover.”
Thaxlas set a try of bread and bowl of broth on the couch, then held out a cup of wine. Rafik took the cup and spoke to Lysus in his own tongue. “Lysus, waken! You are safe now. You must eat and drink to recover your strength.”
Lysus opened his eyes and slowly focused on Rafik's face. He started and Rafik spoke softly, “Lie still. You are safe in my chambers in the palace.” Lysus cast his eyes about frantically. “There is my physician; he is tending your wounds. And there is my cook; he has brought you food and wine. My bodyguard is at the door. We are alone.”
Rafik took a sip from the cup. “See, the wine is quite safe. Drink.” He held the cup to Lysus' lips and the young man drank greedily. “Good. Now you must eat.” He dipped the bread in the broth and took a bite. “The food too is safe for you to eat.” Lysus' questioning eyes never left the face above him as Rafik fed him many pieces of the bread.
At length Delrhun reported that the wounds were not mortal but could be unless they were washed and anointed to prevent infection. Rafik removed Lysus' clothing, then his own and carried the broken warrior into the bathing pool in the courtyard and washed him. Back on the couch, he rubbed medicated oils into Lysus' skin while Delrhun bound the wounds.
Rafik dismissed Delrhun and Thaxlas with the reminder that they were to say nothing of what they had seen or heard. Next, he summoned his other bodyguard, Polon's son, Brelfen. He instructed Polon and Brelfen to guard his door day and night, admitting no one but the cook and physician.
He returned to the couch and looked into Lysus' eyes. It was obvious that the warrior was exhausted beyond telling. Rafik covered him with a sleeping cloak and said, “Rest now. You will be guarded as well as I am guarded. You have my word as prince of the royal house that you will not come to harm here.” Lysus held his glance for a moment longer, then closed his eyes and was asleep.
Rafik donned a sleeping cloak and reclined on a couch in a nearby chamber. Polon approached with lifelong familiarity and spoke as he always did in private. “Rafik, we must speak of this matter before your father learns of it.”
Rafik sighed, “I have promised to answer your questions, but do not worry; I have sworn Thaxlas and Delrhun to secrecy.”
“Be that as it may, the dungeon guards will not find the captive's body and will ignite the royal gossips with the tale of a Macedonian warrior who disappeared in the palace. And they will sweeten the tale with the fact that you were last seen carrying him in your arms.”
Rafik groaned, “By the horns of the goat god! I did not think of that. I suppose I will have to ask for an audience with my father before the day is over.” He sighed, “And I am bone weary.”
Polon would not relent. “Everyone is weary, except the palace gossips. Rafik, your father made me your guardian the day you were born. You are eighteen now and I've smacked your bottom many times during those years. But your father may smack you hard for what you have done today.” Rafik, the warrior who had just slaughtered thousands, looked at Polon with the eyes of a child. “Regardless of your good intentions, the king will only see that you are harboring an enemy. Please tell me your reasons. Perhaps I can help.”
As he had done thousands of times, Rafik placed his arms around Polon's massive shoulders and rested his face on the burly chest. “Yes, dear Polon, you have always been here for me, and you are the only one who has ever offered to help me.” Abruptly, the intimate moment was over. “Send Brelfen with a message to the king that I will make a full report before the evening meal. Then I will tell you why I saved the Macedonian.”
Elfaad sat calmly in his private audience chamber and listened intently to Rafik's detailed account of the battle, occasionally nodding his approval and asking questions about the techniques Rafik used. The king was pleased with Rafik's leadership and the performance of the army, but he rarely rewarded anyone with words of praise.
Then, Rafik began to describe the disposition of the prisoners. “Only one Macedonian officer survived, although his wounds may eventually be mortal. It is reported that he fought bravely defending the body of his commander. By his own admission, he is the commander's son. I recalled that the commander was brother to the king in Thessalonica, making our prisoner the king's nephew.” Elfaad's eyes widened as he absorbed this fact. “He may know many things of interest to us, but I do not think he will reveal them through torture. He is a brave lad.”
Elfaad made a derisive noise with his throat, but said nothing. Rafik continued, “When he stood before me in the square and refused to bend his knee in surrender, I had to decide what to do. Our citizens expected me to run him through or take him to the dungeon, and my men expected no less. At that moment, the gods smiled on us, for he fell to the ground faint from his wounds. I picked him up and carried him through the door to the dungeon. Our subjects believe he is being tortured as we speak.”
Elfaad raised his eyebrows in question. “If not in the dungeon, where is he then?”
“In my chambers, secluded from public view. Only five of us--and now you, My Lord--know his whereabouts.” The king made an exasperated sound and Rafik hurried on. “He will not reveal any information under torture, and he is too valuable a prize to waste in that fashion. Perhaps he can be reasoned with; at the very least, he can be held hostage against another attack from his uncle.”
Elfaad got up and paced the room. “Perhaps. In any event, you have time to carry out the plan you have set in motion. It will take months for King Andros to raise another army, if he can. But I believe that he is a greedy fool who would sacrifice anyone for what he wants, for he sent his brother and nephew to wage a war of attrition, to break our defenses by sheer force of numbers. He must have known that their safe return was in serious doubt, yet he sent them on an all but hopeless mission.” He looked pointedly at Rafik. “Do not presume that the nephew's presence here will prevent another attack. Therefore, if he will not--one way or another--reveal useful information to us, he must taste the sword.”
Rafik pondered his father's words as he and Polon made their way through the cavernous halls. It seemed incomprehensible to him that a king would send his own flesh and blood into a war that was almost certain suicide. Was his father capable of ordering the same for him? Was that the way of a king? Rafik vowed that when he was king he would never send anyone into battle needlessly, and said as much. Polon did not reply, but gave Rafik a look mixed with sadness and respect.
The sun had set as they entered Rafik's chambers. Polon relieved Brelfen as guard at the door and Rafik set about to bathe and feed his prisoner. Lysus' young body had responded to treatment, but he refused all food except bread and broth and went back to sleep immediately after the meal.
During the night, Rafik heard Lysus cry out. He was feverish, reliving some old horror. Rafik bathed his body with cool water, but he continued to shiver and would not waken. Finally, the prince curled his massive frame around the smaller man and held him. Lysus' quieted almost immediately. At the darkest hour, his fever broke, and they both slept.
The morning sun wakened them. Lysus tried to free himself and cried out in pain. Rafik helped him to lie flat. At Lysus' fearful look he said softly, “You were feverish and I shared my body heat with you. If you had become chilled, you would have taken the coughing sickness. But you will recover now. It is only the soreness of your wounds that troubles you.” Lysus relaxed. “Are you hungry?” Lysus nodded and Rafik summoned the cook.
“Since you were ill when we met yesterday, I will introduce myself again. I am Rafik. You are in my chambers in my father's house.”
“Is this the place at Purgim?”
“Yes, I brought you here.”
“But it was you that asked me to surrender. Why did you spare my life?”
“Let us discuss that after we refresh ourselves.” With that, he carried Lysus to the bathing pool. Later, when food was spread before them, they ate with relish. Rafik inquired, “You were having a troubling dream last night, and then you calmed. Can you tell me about it?”
Lysus reflected for a moment, then smiled. “I dreamed that I was fighting a hideous monster, then my oldest brother was there. He held me in his arms and soothed me, telling me that I was safe and well. He did that many times when I had bad dreams as a child.”
Rafik said thoughtfully, “Our healers believe that our minds heal us as well as make us sick. Perhaps in your dream last night the monster you were fighting was your fever, and when I held you, you began to think healing thoughts.”
Lysus said ruefully, “It seems I owe you my life twice over Lord Rafik. Perhaps now you will tell me why you did not torture and kill me. Or is that planned after I recover from my wounds?”
Rafik let the jibe pass and answered him truthfully. “There are those in the palace, my father among them, who advise that course of action. I broke with tradition to carry you here.”
“You carried me?”
“Yes, you fainted from your wounds, so I picked you up and carried you into the palace and to these rooms. Only my father, my bodyguards and trusted servants know that you are here. The good citizens of Purgim think that you have been tortured and are probably dead, because I carried you through the palace doorway to the dungeon.”
“What will happen to my men?”
“They will be sold into service for seven years.” At Lysus' disgusted look, Rafik said, “The proceeds of such sales maintain our army to defend the city and caravans. Our warriors have never attacked anyone. We only defend our domain.”
Lysus looked away, then said, “But you still have not told me why I am here.”
“That is simple to tell. You are the bravest warrior I have ever met. When you stood before me in bitter defeat and would not surrender, I knew you would not break under torture. Then I discovered you were the commander's son and the king's nephew, an aristocrat and hostage against further attack.”
“Then I am to be a prisoner for the rest of my life?”
“Perhaps not. You are a scholar as well as a brave warrior.” Rafik indicated the scribe's ink on Lysus' right thumb and index finger. “It is possible that you are also a philosopher and will yield to reason.”
Lysus said hotly, “What reason, Lord Rafik? To forsake my honor and betray my homeland?”
“You are correct Lysus. Reason and honor go hand in hand. Your reason will show you where your honor lies and tell you what you must do. You are at a crossroads. Meanwhile, you must heal. Ah, here is the physician.” Delrhun examined Lysus and pronounced him a fast healer.
Later, Lysus slept soundly and Rafik suffered a fitful night's sleep.
The next morning, Polon reported on the disposition of the prisoners and the clearing of the battle debris. In Lysus' presence, Rafik and Polon conversed in their own language. All of the Macedonian warriors had been sold and the process of clearing the harbor of sunken ships was under way.
Rafik and Lysus were sunning themselves after the midday meal, when Rafik's small son bounded into the courtyard. Sanaan leaped into his father's arms and smothered him with hugs and kisses. The cheerful boy would have done the same to Lysus had Rafik not stopped him. Rafik introduced him and explained that Lysus was a brave warrior recovering from battle wounds. Sanaan bowed gravely and wished Lysus health, then bounced off to feed the caged birds.
They watched Sanaan try to carry on a conversation with the birds and Lysus said, “He is a fine looking boy. He must be a joy to your heart.”
“Yes, although I cannot spend as much time with him as I wish. His mother died two years ago when he was three. Now, he is mostly in the company of nurses. I wish he could be with other children his own age. I was a lonely child, and I would like to spare Sanaan that.”
“Why did you and your wife not have other children?”
“I would not bring another child into a loveless marriage.” At Lysus questioning look, Rafik explained, “Since I was the only heir to the throne, I was married at thirteen for the sole purpose of producing another heir. Oh, she was nice enough, but we never knew each other and only bedded a few times. Fortunately, our first issue was a boy. It is also fortunate that my wife died, as I did not relish the thought of spending a lifetime merely fulfilling an official function. Now, I lavish all my love on Sanaan. When he is older, I will bring him here to live with me.”
“You said you were lonely as a child. Did your mother and father not love each other?”
“I do not know. My mother died when I was born and my father never spoke of her.”
Lysus smiled at a memory. “My parents loved each other very much.” Then he thought of his dead father and was quiet for a moment. “Our home was in Thessalonica and my father was away much of the time tending our estates or working with the army. But his homecomings were joyous for me and my mother and brothers.”
Rafik reflected, “Our upbringing was very different. I have no bad memories of my childhood, except for the feeling of loneliness.”
During the days that followed, Lysus grew stronger. He could feed, bathe and dress himself, and was finally able to walk with a staff. He grew more at ease and revealed a sunny nature. He spent his mornings entertaining and being entertained by Sanaan, he rested in the afternoons, and he spent each evening talking to Rafik. They grew at ease with each other. Rafik was eager to return to his chambers at the end of the day, for he had never associated with others of his own age, and Lysus' cheerful candor fascinated him. Whenever he thought of how much he enjoyed his prisoner's companionship, he longed for circumstances to be different. He ached for Lysus to be his friend.
One day Polon interrupted Rafik's evening meal with Lysus. Flushed with excitement, he reported the recovery of a watertight chest from the sunken Macedonian command vessel. It was filled with official documents.
Rafik was about to ask a question, but looked at Lysus instead. His face was a mask of fear and panic. They had been speaking in their own language, but Lysus had understood every word.
Rafik asked Polon to wait outside and sat next to Lysus, barely able to contain his frustration and disappointment. “So, you understand our language.”
Lysus emitted a sigh. “Yes. I did not tell you because I needed to know whether you were speaking the truth to me. So, I listened to your conversations with Polon when you thought I could not understand.”
Rafik said, “I have always spoken the truth to you.”
“Yes, you have.” Lysus was utterly miserable. “Rafik, what will become of me now that you have found the chest?”
“What does it contain?”
Lysus shrugged with resignation. “You will eventually find that it contains nothing of political value to you. It contains the orders for the attack from the king, lists of all the ships and their manifests, the rosters of the warriors they carried, and the order to set up a regional government if the attack was successful.”
Rafik went to the door and identified the contents of the chest to Polon. He instructed Polon to have the palace scholars begin translating the documents immediately, but cautioned Polon not to divulge their contents to anyone, to observe and report to Rafik whether Lysus' words were true.
Seated beside Lysus once more, Rafik asked, “Why do you assume the discovery of the chest will affect your status here?”
“Perhaps I have said too much, Lord Rafik.”
“No Lysus, you must tell me everything, otherwise I will surely not be able to save you.”
With a profound shrug of his shoulders, Lysus continued, “Ah, what is the use. There is not much to tell. You were correct. I am a scholar. I was chosen to accompany my father primarily as a scribe and administrator, not as his bodyguard. I am useless to you; I know nothing of the thoughts of King Andros. Your father will surely have me executed.”
“Even if you know nothing of value, you are still a hostage against further attack.”
“I have been thinking on that.” He looked directly into Rafik's eyes. “The god’s truth, I do not know my uncle's heart. I do not know whether he will attack again. He may not believe the merchants who will tell him that I am hostage. He may attack anyway. Or, he may lick his wounds and never attack again. No one knows but King Andros.”
Rafik was subdued, but he grasped Lysus' wrist and said, “Take heart. I promise that you will not die at Purgim's hand.”
Lysus said miserably, “But Rafik, even as comfortable as you have made me, I do not want to spend the rest of my life as a prisoner in these rooms.”
“I understand. I will think on this.” Rafik ran his large hands through his hair, deep in thought. “Many of our scholars can speak your language, but none can read your script well. It will take much time to translate your documents and understand them. This gives me time to devise a plan for you.”
A week later, Polon gave a progress report on the scholars' work. The first document translated was the order for the attack. Most of the other documents appeared to be lists. The only document in Lysus' hand was the ships log. Lysus had signed each entry as the chief scribe for the voyage.
Rafik said, “Then he spoke the truth.” That night Rafik spent a restless sleep.
The next morning after they had bathed and eaten, Rafik guided Lysus into the courtyard and they sat in the sun. Rafik gazed at Lysus for a time, then said, “I have promised that you will not die at our hands. And I have also decided that you will not remain here against your will.”
“Then I may return home?”
Rafik took a deep breath and expelled it before he answered. “I will give you a choice as to what is to become of you. There will be conditions on your options and only your honor will hold you honest after you make your choice. You may swear allegiance to Purgim and enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, or you may join a caravan to the East. In either case, you must swear never to return to Macedonia.”
Lysus pleaded, “But Rafik, why must I not return to Thessalonica? You know that I am not a warrior and that I do not have the ear of the king.”
“Because I am the heir to the crown, but I do not yet wear it. We are still in a state of war with King Andros. If I am to convince my father to spare you, I must assure him that you will never return to Thessalonica to fight against us another day.”
Lysus lowered his eyes. “I understand. When do I have to give you my answer?”
Rafik gave silent thanks that Lysus would even consider the options. “You have a few days.” Then, abruptly, “Your wounds seem to have healed. Perhaps some exercise would clear your head.”
“Perhaps it would at that. I feel as if I have an itch that I cannot scratch.” With a smile, Rafik sent for two leather practice swords and they spent the rest of the morning sparring in the courtyard. In the afternoon, Polon escorted them on a tour of nearby parts of the palace.
By sunset Lysus was fatigued. He seemed subdued. Rafik missed their usual conversation, but respected Lysus' silence.
After the evening meal, Lysus wandered alone in the courtyard. After a time, he stood staring into the black horizon. Presently, he gave a loud cry and fell to his knees.
Rafik rushed to him as Lysus began sobbing uncontrollably. He turned the wet face to him, and Lysus fell into his arms and cried pitiably, “Oh Rafik, I shall never see my home again!” He held Lysus and let him cry for the life that he would leave behind forever.
Tears of relief rolled down Rafik's cheeks, for he had just received Lysus' sworn oath never to return home. He held the misery-wracked body tighter, as he wondered if he could ever summon that much courage himself.
After a time, Lysus' tears subsided. He removed himself from Rafik and said, “I am all right. It is finished.”
“Yes, you have made one decision, the most difficult one. You are an honorable man. I know that you will never return to Thessalonica.”
“No, I will not. It was not difficult to decide against returning to King Andros and his political intrigues. It is my family and friends and their love that I will miss.”
“You will never see them again, but you will always have them in your heart. And you can make new friends in your new life.”
Lysus smiled shyly. “I have made one new friend already, a very wise, compassionate and noble friend. You have treated me with more honor and dignity than we would have bestowed upon you had we won the battle. You have given me my life Rafik, risked much and asked nothing in return except my word of honor.”
Rafik gave him a look of wonder. “Perhaps you have given me one of the most precious gifts of all. You have called me 'friend.' You are wise and brave, and it gives me much pleasure to be in your company. I will place a high value on your friendship.” They exchanged a smile to seal the bond. “Know that whether you decide to stay here or join a caravan, I am your friend.”
After the first meal the next day they lingered in the bathing pool. Lysus was in better spirits, so Rafik casually suggested that they attend the king's public audience to observe Purgimian justice in action.
Lysus' merry mood bubbled to the surface. “Is My Lord Rafik trying to influence my pending decision?”
Rafik caught the infectious humor and said with mock expansiveness, “With all my heart. But officially, I will only say that I wish my friend to make an informed decision.”
Lysus heaved himself out onto the pavement and gave a mock bow. “I would gladly accept Lord Rafik's suggestion. Are these garments suitable for the occasion?” He threw his arms open wide to display his nakedness.
With an open palm, Rafik sent a huge spray of water cascading over Lysus. “Now, you are properly robed!” Lysus dived back into the pool and cheerfully took on the impossible task of trying to duck Rafik's head under the water.
An hour later they stood in Rafik's robing chamber searching for clothes suitable for a king's audience. They began the quest in earnest, but degenerated into peals of laughter as Lysus began to try on Rafik's impossibly large garments. Finally, to stop the fits of laughter, they summoned a tailor to drape Lysus properly.
By the noon hour, they were both well attired and Polon escorted them to the audience chamber. The high vaults of the ornate room rang with the voices of ministers, petitioners, merchants and felons awaiting the king's justice. Rafik chose to stand in a less desirable place on the outermost circle of the court the better to observe without attracting attention. Rafik and Lysus pressed close to a railing to see the proceedings, while Polon stood a little behind them.
For the next two hours they listened to Elfaad hear petitions for favors from the crown, arbitrate contract disputes, and dispense justice to those accused of crimes. Rafik and Polon had long since let their attention wander from the familiar litany of the court, but Lysus seemed to absorb every word and file it for future consideration.
Lysus heard a sharp intake of breath from Polon and turned to see him fall to the floor. A bloody dagger hung in the air where he had stood. The man holding the dagger stepped over Polon and poised to run the blade into Rafik's back. Lysus screamed, “Rafik, beware!” and threw his body against the dagger. His shoulder deflected the blade, but its point ran clean through his upper arm. Rafik whirled around, sword in hand, and severed the assassin's arm above the wrist in one swift move. The villain collapsed on to Lysus with an agonizing scream. Rafik kicked the man aside and stared in horror at the two bodies on the floor, oblivious to the pandemonium swirling around him.
Hours later, Lysus lay on a couch in Rafik's chambers. Rafik had carried him there with instructions to rest and wait. The physician had tended his wound and it did not hurt much after the fiery sting of the medication had subsided. He rose at the sound of his name. Rafik approached with an older man in tow.
“This is my father,” Rafik said gravely.
Lysus dropped unsteadily to one knee, his mind reeling with fear and dread. King Elfaad began speaking immediately. “Rise young man. Rafik has spent the last two hours telling of the matters concerning you.” He paused slightly. “And I have listened. But there is one explanation I require that only you can give me. Why did you place yourself in jeopardy for my son?”
“I - I did it without thinking,” Lysus stammered, then recovered. “Rafik was in danger; I had no weapon and sought to protect him.” Elfaad waited for further explanation. Lysus looked deep within his soul for the words of truth. “Your Highness, Rafik is full of honor and has placed his trust in mine. He is wise and just and does not deserve to be cut down by villainy. In all honesty, I gave no thought that I might be in danger; I only saw that Rafik was. And I acted.”
Elfaad nodded his approval. “Well said young Lysus. You have saved the life of the Crown Prince, my son and your friend. I thank you on all three counts.”
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Let us not stand on ceremony. Sit down. You are not well and I am tired. Come Rafik, sit.”
Lysus sat, stunned by this turn of events. Rafik examined the bandage on his arm. “The physician said your wound is not serious.” At Lysus questioning look, Rafik shook his head sadly. “Polon is with the gods. The physician said that too many of his vital organs were damaged. He was dead within seconds of the blade.”
“I am sorry Rafik.”
A tear trickled down Rafik's cheek. “I have avenged his death. He who kills for hire should earn horrible death. I took the assassin to the dungeon. Before he died he told me that he was in the pay of the king of Crete. It seems now that we must look for danger from a second direction.”
Elfaad clapped his hands and a servant brought cheese and wine. “Rafik has told me that you have yet to decide whether you will stay with us or take to a caravan.”
Lysus summoned all of his courage. “It is fortunate that you are here Your Highness to witness my answer, for I have made my decision.” He turned to Rafik's astonished look. “I will need a sword Rafik. Please.”
Rafik nodded and opened a nearby cabinet to reveal Lysus' sword and armor, fully repaired and shining. He removed the sword and handed it over.
Lysus stood before Rafik and grasped the hilt with both hands. He placed the point on the floor and went to one knee. "I swear by this blade, bloodied with honor in battle, to defend the royal house of Purgim.” He stared intently into Rafik’s eyes. “Rafik, I swear by my honor to be shieldarm and protector to you, to defend your honor as well as your person, to be friend and companion to you as long as the gods smile on us. If ever I be otherwise, let this sword pierce my heart.”
Rafik had dared hope that Lysus would choose to stay, but he could not have conceived of this turn of events. Lysus had not only sworn allegiance to Purgim, but also given his entire being to Rafik. He sank slowly to his knees and placed his hands over Lysus'. He was not completely in control of his voice. “Lysus, I swear by the gods to be master and protector to you, to defend your honor and cherish your friendship as long as the gods smile on us. As prince of the royal house, if I am otherwise, let this sword pierce my heart and the gods have their revenge.”
Elfaad stood and placed a hand on the shoulder of each man. “As the gods have witnessed these oaths, let them not be forsworn. You have my blessing, for you both have done well.” They stood and bowed to the king. Elfaad paused to look at Lysus, then he smiled. “Rafik, Polon would be pleased, as am I.” He turned and left the chamber.
They faced each other, eyes searching eyes, soul searching soul, trying to recover from the stunning moment. Lysus said, “The oath was proof to you and your father,” he pointed to his heart, “but it is truly what I want, in here. You must never have doubt.” They embraced and when they parted their eyes were not dry. They began to speak at once, stopped, and dissolved into laughter.
Lysus turned to the open cabinet. “You had my armor repaired.”
Rafik placed a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, to show respect for your courage, even though I knew you would never wear it again in the service of Thessalonica. But now we will change the crest to that of Purgim and you will wear it once more.”
They sat on the couch and ate, drank and talked, slightly giddy, smiling and laughing over the food.
At length, Rafik said, “It is time to retire.” They rose, hesitantly. Rafik placed his hands on Lysus' shoulders, then drew him into his arms. “Will you stay with me tonight?” he whispered into the boy's ear.
Lysus embraced Rafik fiercely and breathed, “Every night, if you wish.” Rafik led him into the sleeping chamber.
Their emotions ran riot as they stood facing each other beside the bed. Neither moved for several moments, then Lysus tentatively began unlacing his tunic. Rafik quickly covered the boy's hands with his own. "Please, let me," he said with a quiet smile. With a look of pure joy, Lysus dropped his hands to his sides, moving again only when Rafik lifted the bloody tunic over his head. When he was bare to the waist, Lysus boldly reached for the laces of Rafik's garment.
In this manner, they undressed each other, until they took turns removing their sandals. Now standing once again facing each other, each looked upon his friend with new eyes. At this point, their breathing became short and their manhood became rampant. They had seen each other naked every day, but not in this context.
Rafik beheld his companion with eyes of wonder. Lysus was slight of stature, but perfectly proportioned. At that moment, he knew that one day a Purgimian sculptor would fashion a public statue to honor Lysus' beauty.
Lysus put out a tentative hand toward Rafik's chest. "You are so perfect Rafik that I am almost afraid to touch you."
At these words, the smile that Rafik had worn slid from his face. He covered Lysus' hand with his own and said, "Lysus, my desire to touch you is overwhelming, but I too am hesitant. I had a male companion when I was a mere boy, but I have not pleasured another man since I was married. So, I am unsure of myself."
Lysus smiled. Grasping Rafik's hand, he pulled him down onto the bed. "Then you must lie here and let me pleasure you, because I was well trained in the art of loving men." With a hand, he gently pressed Rafik onto his back, and bent to look into his master's eyes. Rafik relaxed and smiled up at his sworn companion.
Lysus smoothed Rafik's long dark hair from his eyes and kissed them tenderly. His lips continued to plant kisses as they traveled over Rafik's face, down to his ear. There, Lysus' employed his tongue, tracing the whorls of the formation. Then, his lips and teeth tugged and nipped the lobe. He inhaled the scent of Rafik's musk, sending desire coursing through his mind and body.
With a sigh and a deep growl, Rafik pulled Lysus on top of him. They shivered with delight as they felt their manhoods touch, felt the cool skin of their legs as they intertwined, and felt the strong muscles of their chests pressed together. Lysus cradled Rafik's head between his hands and gave his sworn companion a soft kiss on the mouth, first tenderly sucking the lower lip, then probing with his tongue. Rafik opened his mouth and accepted Lysus' offering, savoring its sweet taste fully. As their tongues dueled, Rafik's fingers began to explore Lysus' body. With each stroke of the boy's skin, he became more aroused.
At last, Lysus released Rafik's mouth and smothered his face with kisses, the beginning of a journey of love. For a long while, his lips savored the soft skin of the warrior's throat. Rafik murmured something in his native tongue when Lysus' teeth raked his nipple. Briefly, he gave equal treatment to the other nipple, immediately feeling Rafik's fingers knot in his hair. His lover relaxed somewhat as as he slowly left a trail of wet kisses down to his navel. As Lysus' tongue laved that wonder of nature, he felt the scorching heat of Rafik's cock against his cheek. It burned his face and the scent of it generated an electric charge in his mind as he brushed past it, kissing his way down. Rafik thrust his hips upward, involuntarily urging Lysus to take his cock and give him relief.
In Rafik's state of desire, his balls were drawn up tightly against the base of his dick, depriving Lysus of the pleasure of taking them into his mouth. Nevertheless, he slathered them with his lips and turned instead to that sensitive spot behind the balls. He kissed it, sucked it and nipped it with his teeth, bringing forth loud words of encouragement from Rafik, spoken in an unintelligible tongue, proving that passion translates across all languages.
At this point, Rafik's cock was so hard that it flexed in time with the rapid beating of his heart. Lysus dared not think about his own cock and its advanced state of arousal; although, he was vaguely aware of it slapping against his belly, in time with his own surging heart rate.
Hardly oblivious to his lover's impassioned please, Lysus' tongue explored the taught skin of Rafik's inner thighs, savoring the heady scent of clean sweat and sexual musk. Then, he concentrated on his master's well-formed knees, bringing forth another torrent of expletives. He raised Rafik's legs and placed his feet on his chest, making a move to explore Rafik's rectum with his finger. When he touched his lover there, Rafik screamed something and raised his knees to his chest, baring himself to his lover.
The boy inserted his finger into Rafik, causing the warrior to squirm as the ministrations stimulated his sphincter muscle. Shortly, the probing finger discovered his swollen prostate and Lysus began to massage it tenderly. Rafik's hips began to undulate with each stroke of the finger and his moans of pleasure rose and fell with the same cadence.
Presently, Rafik wrapped his legs around Lysus' waist and drew him close. The boy continued to probe his hot soft insides with one hand while he lightly gripped the base of Rafik's cock with the other. With each nudge of his prostate, a pearl of semen appeared at the end of his cock. Lysus reverently took each drop on his tongue and relished it.
As Lysus nursed the end of Rafik's magnificent column and milked his prostate, his lover's moans grew louder and the muscles of his legs began to quiver. Suddenly, he screamed a phrase that clearly meant that he had passed the point of no return.
Lysus withdrew his finger and gripped Rafik's shaft with both fists and covered its head with his mouth. The muscles of Rafik's stomach formed ripples as he ejaculated and his legs formed a vice-like grip around Lysus' waist. The boy nursed furiously, swallowing Rafik's seed, savoring its pungent taste; all the while glorying in the pleasure he knew he was giving his sworn companion.
As their breathing returned to normal, Lysus willed his petrified muscles to move when he felt the feather light touch of Rafik's fingers massaging his temples. He shifted his eyes from the warrior's hard shaft to the gentle features of his face. When their eyes met, Rafik smiled and Lysus began to tremble, his passion for this magnificent being peaked and he felt himself about to loose control.
Rafik rolled on top of Lysus and buried his face between the boy's breasts, licking the blazing skin and tasting his lover's musk. His licks and kisses moved upward until they took Lysus into a deep soul kiss. Rafik felt ardor stream from Lysus' mind to his, and their hips simultaneously began to grind together. At once, their bodies and souls were locked together as one sexual organism. Excitement, love and lust streamed back and forth between them as air streamed between their lungs with their kiss.
So slowly that Lysus didn't realize what he was doing, Rafik rose to his knees to straddle Lysus hips. He broke the kiss long enough to smile down at his lover and whisper, "I remember something my boyhood companion and I used to do." He pushed back and Lysus' cock glided into Rafik's pulsating rectum.
As Rafik began to pump his hips, he sat up and placed Lysus' hands on his still hard shaft. His eyes closed and his mouth went slack, the picture of a man lost in the nerve tingling thrill of being masturbated inside and out.
Instantly, Lysus felt the cords in his balls churn. Pre-cum oozed out of his cock. He felt his dick swell at the same time Rafik's distended shaft bloated further in his fists.
They moaned in unison and ejaculated at the same instant. Yet, Rafik kept pumping until their cocks were empty.
Rafik didn't open his eyes until his breathing calmed. Then, he gazed down at the ropes of semen on Lysus' chest. With a sensuous movement of his hand, he swept up some of his seed and fed it to his lover. Lysus sucked the delicacy off his fingers and Rafik continued to feed him until his chest was clean.
Exhausted, Rafik fell down beside Lysus, who gathered him into his arms and kissed him. Pressing his entire body to the boy, Rafik shuddered with contentment. They gazed at each other, eyes shining.
Rafik tenderly stroked Lysus' cheek and whispered, "Beloved, the gods have smiled on us this night. May it be the first night of forever for us."
They continued to kiss and cuddle, rejoicing in the glory of their first mating.
Later, as they lay entwined, Lysus' infectious humor bubbled to the surface. He said, chuckling, “If this is my post each night, perhaps I should sleep with my sword beside the bed.”
The prince bestowed a kiss to the nose of his bodyguard. “Our oaths require us to protect each other. So, we will sleep with a sword on either side of the bed.” Then seriously, “I may be your master at court,” he pointed to his heart, “but you are the master here.” They kissed again, deeply.
Much later, after their second mating, Rafik stretched, deep in thought. He gathered Lysus into his arms and said, “Tomorrow let us move Sanaan into these chambers, then we shall raise my son, together.”
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