Tir jumped slightly, feeling icy eyes on him. He briefly looked up to see the Queen’s hard grey eyes piercing him yet again. He quickly looked away, staring down at his plate, feeling an uneasy anger at the woman. Marek’s large, cool hand grasped his own, squeezing it, Tir smiled up at Marek, feeling some of his uneasiness slide away at the unsaid reassurance. It had become a pattern in the long dinner; the Queen’s eyes would land on him, making him nervous and uneasy until either Marek or Drake’s hand would seek out his own, gently but firmly reminding him again and again that he wasn’t alone.
The sumptuous dinner seemed to last forever, the talk focusing around the lost delegation ship that was long overdue. The ship from Terma that had left over a month ago, carrying five nobles and three scribes that were to help Drake during the conference, had gone missing. King Nolan, who had remained silent throughout much of the discussion, had only volunteered that they could not hold off the conference any longer and Tristan had reluctantly agreed.
Tir had remained silent throughout the exchange, feeling completely out of place in such dealings. Despite parentage and recent rise to nobility, he still felt out of his depth. He had no idea of what would even be discussed in the meeting that would decide the outcome of Terma’s future. War seemed such an unreal concept to Tir and the thought of his new home being engulfed in it terrified him.
He looked over at King Nolan discreetly as he picked at his food. The man seemed far different from Logan or Tristan. He didn’t seem as regal, almost fading into the background as ordinary. He wouldn’t have been out of place in a group of scribes or scholars. His simple clothes, although obviously made of the best materials, were without ornamentation and very conservative, leaving little skin bare. The deep russet color of his clothing matched his short curly hair that framed a narrow, stern face. He obviously wasn’t a warrior, being far too slender and only slightly taller than Tir himself; in fact Tir wasn’t so sure that he wouldn’t be able to win in a fight against the man. He was the total opposite of what Tir had come to expect from royalty.
“What of your young Marquis? He seems like an odd choice for your delegation?” the Queen asked lightly, pulling Tir from his inspection of Nolan.
He looked up, startled to see Tristan’s tight smile as his hand moved under the table towards his wife. He could see the tension between the two as if it were a tangible thing. It was obvious that she far from approved of him being there.
“Tir has come to ease our dragons’ loneliness, since we will be occupied a great deal, and we do not wish to leave them alone,” Drake said smoothly, with a faint smile at the woman.
“You have brought your dragons? I wouldn’t have thought that was possible,” Nolan said quietly, breaking the tension at the table.
“Yes, thanks to Tristan we were able to gate them here. My dragon just hatched her clutch and was unwilling to leave her hatchling, and I was unwilling to leave her,” Drake answered, turning his attention to Nolan.
“I have heard of the strange bond your nobility share with those fearsome beasts, although it seems they are not without their risks,” Nolan observed.
Drake frowned even as Marek smiled coldly at the king, and Tristan laughed.
“I think they are well worth the risks, Nolan. I myself have envied the bonds I have observed between Drake and his lovely Ebony when I visited his country. They are magnificent and I can tell they are far from beasts,” Tristan added with a brilliant smile that shocked Tir, who hadn’t seen such an open, joyful expression in the man’s face before. He suddenly wasn’t as confused about his mother’s love for the man as he gazed at him.
“Perhaps, but being bound in such a way must be difficult. I had heard your mother’s death was caused by her dragon,” Nolan said in a crisp firm voice, looking at Drake.
“No, her death was caused by an arrow,” Marek said in a voice that broke no further comment, his eyes cold and hard.
“If you ask any who have bonded a dragon the burdens are inconsequential. No person in Terma would ever refuse the bond, despite the risks and upheavals it can cause in one’s life, and no rider has ever regretted the bond. Dragons are the foundation of our country and have kept us safe for many generations,” Drake said in a calm voice that belied his feelings.
Tir didn’t even have to look at Drake to know the subject of his mother’s death was something that still bothered him. He had never met the woman, but he had little doubt that Alexius had been a remarkable woman, and her death would always be a source of pain for all that had known her. Without hesitation Tir reached out for Drake, wrapping his own smaller one around the large bronze hand comfortingly, even as Nolan’s eyes traveled to Tir, looking at him with a little bit of surprise that quickly vanished.
“I wonder why your country is the only one that dragons bond with. There is a group of them up around the southernmost tip of our land, but they do not let humans approach them. I also haven’t heard of anyone outside of the nobility of your country bonding a dragon,” Tristan remarked.
“We do not know, and our dragons remain silent on the subject. It could have something to do with the fact that most of our dragons, except the ones bonded to the royal family, are all born within the palace where our young nobility wait to bond them,” Drake answered even as the dishes where cleared away and a fine chocolate dessert was set before them.
“Hmm, what do your histories say about how the dragons became a part of your country’s culture?” Tristan asked curiously.
“We have very few documents of that time, since our country was founded over a thousand years ago. Dragons have always been a part of Terma, and I imagine they always will,” Drake answered with a shrug.
“It seems Tristan is amendable to bonding one of us,” Feras said quietly in Tir’s mind, causing him to jump a little in surprise.
“I’ve told you not to do that!” Tir scolded silently, trying to avoid Marek’s gaze as he looked down at Tir, concerned, along with Drake, who squeezed his hand tighter for a moment in his surprise.
“Sorry, but you would think you would get used to me in your mind,” Feras said, his voice colored with humor at Tir’s response.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” Tir reminded him.
“I was, but your adorable little brothers just came back a little while ago and I still haven’t got back to sleep,” Feras said.
“Are they ok?” Tir asked, ignoring the conversation flowing around him, totally lost within Feras’s words.
“They look alright, but they skirted the edge of the room and now are sitting as far away from us as they can. They are terrified of us,” Feras said with some humor.
“Everyone is terrified of you,” Tir retorted.
“Except for you and your father. What is it with your bloodline? Still, it looks like Tristan might be willing to bond one of us,” Feras said in exasperation.
“Great, but what do I tell him? Oh by the way the dragons are actually in contact with each other and would feel more comfortable if they could control your gift,” Tir snorted aloud without realizing that he wasn’t alone, and everyone looked at him in surprise.
“Sorry,” Tir mumbled, blushing and looking down.
“Would you prefer to extend the dinner instead?” the Queen asked acidly.
“What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention and was thinking about something else,” Tir said softly.
“Understandable, I found state dinners quite boring as a young man,” Nolan said politely. “If you will excuse me, tomorrow will be a long day.”
Everyone rose as Nolan nodded and quietly left the table without another word, his retainers following solemnly behind him. Tir felt his blush deepen on his face as the lower nobility further down the table also began to filter out of the dinning hall.
“Is everything ok?” Drake asked, concerned as he looked down at Tir.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I really should have been paying attention,” Tir said.
“You have a lot on your mind,” Drake said, his eyes softening.
“Don’t worry, I can punish you later for it,” Marek purred, leaning down close to Tir’s ear, sending a welcoming shiver up Tir’s back with the sexy tone.
“Excuse me?” Tristan said, coming up and looking at Marek rather coolly.
Tir sighed, shooting Marek a dark look although he couldn’t help but wonder how much Tristan had heard, since Marek had been very quiet about his playful threat. This would be the second time in less than a day Marek had gotten him into a conversation that he would have preferred not having about his sexual inclinations. He was beginning to wonder if Marek wanted his whole family to disapprove of him.
“I do not believe here would be the appropriate place to hold a conversation on that particular subject,” Drake said mildly, looking in the direction of the Queen, who stood by her chair rigidly.
“I would like to speak to Tir alone,” Tristan said formally, looking Drake straight on, his tone implying it wasn’t a request.
“That is up to Tir,” Drake said evenly.
“I want to talk to you as well, about my brothers,” Tir nodded, his eyes hardening as he looked past Tristan to his wife.
“Come with me,” Tristan said.
“We will be waiting for you,” Drake said softly, squeezing Tir’s shoulder before letting him go.
Tir nodded even as he briefly touched Marek’s upper arm reassuringly after seeing a brief flash of alarm in the cool green eyes. He turned to see Tristan looking at him curiously for a moment before he led him out of the room. Tir followed behind the man nervously, wondering exactly what he was going to say to Tristan. He knew one thing, he wasn’t about to bring up dragons right now, despite Feras’s anxious thoughts in the back of his mind.
“Here, this is my study,” Tristan said, opening the door to an enormous room filled with books. All four walls were lined with bookcases rising to the ceiling. Chairs were piled with even more books and a large desk was stacked with papers and still more books. The hard wood floor was the only place that the books had not spread to. In an instant Tir was in love with the large square room, and felt a little bit of tension flow out of him.
“What are they about?” Tir asked, moving over to a shelf.
“Magic, all of them. All of the books about mages, their powers, histories of the great war, and even the dragons are here,” Tristan said quietly as Tir whirled around in shock, his eyes widening.
“Dragons…” Tir stammered.
“I didn’t bring you here to talk about dragons. Damn it Tir, what happened to you? As soon as I found out you were missing, I started searching for you, but the trail went cold at the docks. Quenten did a good job of picking a person to sell you to. That jewel merchant hasn’t returned to Recura and he travels constantly. I haven’t been able to get my hands on him or the wretched captain that smuggled you out of the country,” Tristan said tightly.
Tir winced at the mention of the captain. It probably wouldn’t be prudent to tell Tristan how he spent the whole voyage to Terma as the ship captain’s whore. Tir didn’t feel any anger toward the man, and had enjoyed for the most part his time in the man’s bed. It was obvious that Tristan wouldn’t see it in the same light.
“What does it matter? I’m not your son really; you only sired me, that is all. I have never once seen you, I don’t even know anything about you. Why are you concerned now?” Tir asked, a little irritated by the man’s anger at him, as if it were his fault.
“Why am I concerned? My son was sold! Why shouldn’t I be concerned? How could I ever be ok with that! I should have never listened to Kassarh,” Tristan growled, frustration and anger warring within his face as he turned his back on Tir to grip the desk.
Tir was shocked by the explosion as he looked at the rigid back and the white knuckles of the man that clutched at the desk. He didn’t understand the man at all, why was he so upset about a boy that he didn’t even know being sold? Yes, he was Tristan’s son, but the anger that the man seemed to always be directing at Tir unsettled him. It wasn’t his fault he had been sold, it wasn’t as if he could have sent Tristan a letter until recently, and even then he wouldn’t because he had no idea that he was that important to the man.
“I’m your father, not your king,” Tristan said, whirling around to look at Tir angrily.
“You’re not my father,” Tir sighed shaking his head. “A father is someone that is there for a child when they are growing up. Quenten might have sold me, and he surely resented me, but he was there for me and until mother died, he did try his best. It might not have been good enough, but I think the man did try.”
“He sold you, and you would rather claim him as your father?” Tristan said, shock warring with anger as he turned to look at Tir.
“I don’t claim him, he just is. All three of you determined that before I was even born, with the choices you all made. I have no idea what really went on between the three of you. Why you left my mother. Why she chose Quenten. Why he accepted her despite the fact he couldn’t bear to look at a son that wasn’t of his blood. I have no clue why all three of you chose the paths you did, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t blame me for it,” Tir said with a little anger of his own.
“I didn’t leave your mother. She left me, or to be more accurate she left the title she would have had to bear and the anger my choosing her would cause. She didn’t want to be a Queen; she didn’t want to have to share me with work that she knew would take me away from her. She knew if I chose her to be my wife the whole court would protest, including my parents. She brought nothing to the marriage except her love for me. For me it would have been enough, I would have fought and won, but she wouldn’t be the source of strife amidst the court and my family. She wanted peace with a husband that would adore her and be there to watch her children grow. I could have given her that if she would have allowed me to try, but…” Tristan stopped, the anger melting from his face as he spoke.
“She forbade me from seeing you, it was a condition of her marriage to your father. I pleaded with her but to no avail; she said even if Quenten hadn’t made it a condition she would have asked for it anyway. You are my son and if I acknowledge you, bastard or not, it would have caused problems within the court. You would have become a pawn and she would not allow it. If I ignored you then you would be safer.”
Tir looked at the man, surprised by his explanation. He wanted to deny it but he could see his mother doing exactly that. It explained why she was insistent that he think of Quenten as his father, and never once showed him the letters that Tristan sent occasionally to inquire after him. Her silence about his real father took on a new aspect as he thought about Tristan’s explanation.
It was obvious as the man spoke that he still held deep feelings for his mother. The expression and forlorn tone of his voice when he spoke of his mother was painful even to Tir. That, more than anything else, convinced Tir of the truth of Tristan’s words. Whatever had gone on between the two of them was far more than Tir had ever imagined. His mother rarely spoke of this man standing before him, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was to cover her own feelings for the man she had left or if there was another reason.
“I didn’t know, mother never spoke of you,” Tir said softly.
“No, she wouldn’t, she was a determined woman. Once she set herself on a course she never looked back. Not when she fell in love with me nor when she decided to leave me,” Tristan said sadly.
“So what do you want from me now?” Tir asked.
“I want you to live here, to be my son. I want to teach you about the magic inside of you and for us to truly become father and son,” Tristan said simply.
Tir looked at the man, stunned. Despite his proclamation when they had first met about acknowledging him, this was the last thing he had expected to hear from the man. This wasn’t about duty or honor for Tristan, it was something more. Tir stood motionless, unable to move as the words sank in. A real father, someone that wanted him. He wondered what it would be like to have someone to turn to, to teach him. Someone to love him and not hate him for something he had no control over. For a brief moment Tir thought of what if would be like to have Tristan as a father, not just in name only. Yet the realities made it impossible, and Tir knew that there were two people that he loved more than the imagined family Tristan was offering, and yet another person that would never stand for it as well.
“Impossible, your wife would never allow it, and I already have a life that I don’t want to abandon,” Tir said, shaking his head.
“Gemma is my concern, she will not interfere,” Tristan said tightly, his eyes narrowing.
“She is already interfering. She has been making Elgin and Ash’s lives miserable here. They are afraid of her, and with just cause. She assigned them to our delegation before she even knew about me being here, with direct instructions to care for the dragons. We both know what would have happened if they tried to enter the room with Ebony and Feras,” Tir retorted.
“She might not have known… No she did, damn her,” Tristan growled. “I will take care of it.”
“You can’t take care of it. What would you do to her? Yell at her, imprison her? She is your wife, there is very little you can do to her. I’m your bastard and Elgin and Ash are children of a woman you obviously loved, do you really think she will ever be able to reign in her hostilely? Even I have a hard time accepting the fact that there is a woman out there that has given birth to Drake’s children, and I know that he loves me and not her. Can your wife say that she knows you love her more than my mother?” Tir asked.
“No, our marriage isn’t like that, Tir. It was never based on love,” Tristan said shaking his head.
“Then on power? What would acknowledging your bastard son do to the power of the mother of your heir? You can’t take care of your wife, but that is beside the point. When Drake and Marek go back to Terma I will be going with them, and I want to take Ash and Elgin with me,” Tir replied.
“Marek? I thought you were in love with Drake, and what was with that comment he made to you, something about punishment?” Tristan asked, confused.
Tir groaned softly, walking over to one of the chairs to remove some of the books and sit down. Why did he have to hear that part? It was the last thing he wanted to explain to the man, the very last thing. He had been so obsessed over his brothers and the dragons he had never given any real thought about explaining his relationship to Drake, let alone to Marek.
“Tir, what happened to you? How did you end up meeting Drake when you were a slave?” Tristan asked softly, coming over to kneel down in front of Tir and grasping his hands.
Tir looked up at the man in surprise at the tone and gentle touch. He could see the concern in Tristan’s face and truly wondered what he meant to Tristan.
“Father sold me to a jewel merchant that took me to Terma, as a slave. Although I can read and write, along with having a decent education, my looks determined what kind of slave I would be,” Tir said quietly, staring down at the large hands covering his own, the grip almost painfully hard at his words.
“No,” Tristan choked.
Tir smiled crookedly at the man, shaking his head.
“It wasn’t that bad, it could have been far worse. I was sold into the palace harem almost immediately, and Logan’s harem is huge. I wasn’t called on too often, although the chief eunuch didn’t like me and it was incredibly boring,” Tir said, trying to reassure the man, pushing aside some of the more gross images of the council members.
“Then Drake used you?” Tristan asked, a hard tone coming to his voice.
Tir chuckled at the accusation, for Drake had been the only one that hadn’t wanted to use him. Tir had almost had to jump the man to get him to have sex with him.
“No it wasn’t like that, it is a lot more complicated. You have to remember I was a harem boy, not your son. Nobody knew I was anything more than that. I wasn’t a very good slave since I was always bored in the harem and the only thing that interested me were the creatures I saw flying in the sky above the palace. I was obsessed with the dragons and wanted to see them up close, so I found a way to sneak out of the harem, and I found Ebony,” Tir said with a smile at the memory of the first time he had seen the beautiful dragon.
“You entered her pen alone,” Tristan gasped.
“Yes,” Tir said with a huge smile as he looked down at Tristan. “I didn’t know they were dangerous and honestly it didn’t matter. She was my dream, so very beautiful and strong. I walked up to her and touched her head and she licked my face. That is when Drake came in and caught me with her. Ebony shielded me with her wing until Drake started laughing. I’ve never heard a laugh so full of joy and life until that moment. I think I was a little in love with him even then,” Tir mused with a soft smile.
“So he took you as his personal servant?” Tristan asked doubtfully.
“Of course not, but he didn’t turn me in either. He let me go, saying that he wouldn’t stop me from seeing Ebony because she liked me, but at the same time he wouldn’t help me either. He also warned me what I was doing was dangerous if I got caught,” Tir answered.
“I don’t understand, why would he let you go? And why did Ebony not hurt you?” Tristan asked, confused.
“Ebony remembered you and she liked my fearlessness, I think. As for Drake, he and Logan never saw eye to eye on the harem. Drake wants his partners to bed him from desire, not as a duty. He also doesn’t like the mindless empty headed slaves of the harem that Logan prefers. He hasn’t visited the harem in many years. Ebony liked me, so Drake wasn’t going to turn me in and get me punished or killed, yet at the same time his pride wouldn’t let him enter the harem and take me out of it, especially when I became Logan’s favorite” Tir said with a shrug.
“You mean… that’s disgusting,” Tristan growled as the implications of Logan’s favorite sank in.
“Why? I admit it is a little weird now that I’m with Drake, but Logan is still very handsome. I didn’t love him, but he was preferable to the other council members, especially…” Tir caught himself just in time, not wanting to add Marek to the story yet.
“Never mind, it isn’t important. Logan didn’t call on me too much even though I was his favorite. He still prefers girls over boys, but my eyes… they seemed to attract him. Anyway Drake wasn’t going to interfere or use me either, but Ebony was also close to mating and well, his lust overcame his intentions, not that I minded,” Tir blushed.
“After that Drake told me not to come to the pen again until after Ebony had mated, since he feared I would get caught. Once she did, I returned, I couldn’t wait to see both of them again. That’s when Drake began to ask me more about myself, since I didn’t really act like a slave should. It was then when you came up. Drake wanted to release me from the harem immediately and send me home to you, but I said no,” Tir explained.
“What is wrong with you? Did you like be a whore? Why Tir?” Tristan asked horrified.
“I didn’t mind being a harem boy that much anymore. The only ones allowed to use me were people that I liked, and even though I don’t love Logan I did like him. I didn’t want to leave Terma. I didn’t want to leave Drake and Marek and especially Ebony. Being a slave seemed like a small price to pay to be near the people I loved. Besides I didn’t know what would happen if I returned and you found out father had sold me. He is the only family the twins have, how could I be responsible for leaving them orphaned and alone? They are too young for that to happen to them,” Tir answered firmly.
Tristan looked like he was going to explode as he stood up and walked away, his body rigid and tense as stood with his back to Tir. It was obvious he was trying very hard to control his temper and Tir wondered if he would be able to. He was almost afraid to ask which part of his reason had made the man so mad.
“Please try to understand, I love Drake and Marek and their dragons more than anything. It made me happy that you wanted me to be your son, but I guess I’m like my mother as well. I don’t want to be a prince or a bastard prince; I really don’t even want to be a marquis. But Logan and Drake thought it would be easier for you to accept me being in Terma if they showed you how important I am to them. The title is second only to the King’s and Logan had to overrule his own council to give it to me. Drake and Marek really do love me, and I love them more than anything. Yes I was a harem boy, but as soon as Logan found out I was your son he pulled me out of the harem and since then the only people that touch me are the people that I have welcomed into my bed, the people that I love,” Tir said, standing and going over to Tristan and lightly touching his back tentatively.
“You were afraid for Quenten?” Tristan asked without turning.
“More for my brothers than for him. I don’t know what I feel for my father anymore. Mother always wanted us to love each other, but I think it was impossible. My eyes that seem to draw so much attention always reminded him of you. I know he was always jealous of you, now I can’t help but wonder if he knew more than I did about mother’s feelings. I was a link of her past, to a man that wasn’t him, a constant reminder I guess. I do know that he truly loved her, more than anything else. I don’t hate him simply because, if he hadn’t done what he did I would have never meet Ebony and Drake and Marek, and Feras,” Tir answered softly.
“You keep saying you love Marek, but how does he fit into all of this?” Tristan asked, turning to look down at Tir, who blushed.
“Marek is Drake’s dragon partner. Feras and Ebony are mated and so Drake and Marek are as well. Ebony has taken Feras as her permanent mate,” Tir explained evasively.
“So you are forced into being with Marek because of the dragons?” Tristan asked with heavy disapproval.
“No! It isn’t like that,” Tir said, emphatically shaking his head.
“Then what?” Tristan demanded.
Tir remained silent, wondering what to say. How to explain the complicated relationship between the three of them without making it sound horrible. He didn’t want Tristan disliking Marek or misunderstanding things between the three of them.
“I met Marek before I met Drake,” Tir said slowly.
“He used you?”
“I don’t know if you could call it that really. I wanted to have sex with him and looked forward to him calling on me, especially when I found out he was a dragon rider. I like having sex and Marek is very good at it,” Tir said softly as he felt heat rise on his face at the admission.
“Drake and Marek didn’t like each other at first; they are both so different from one another. I met them separately and fell in love with both of them. I’m greedy, I couldn’t choose between them, but when Ebony and Feras mated it solved things in a way. They are both connected through their dragons, and through me as well. I can be with them both and both of them are gradually finding common ground through me. They both love me in their own way, and slowly we are finding a way to make our complicated relationship work together,” Tir explained.
“Tir…” Tristan said uneasily.
“I know it sounds strange, but I’m happy and so are they. I love them and their dragons,” Tir said quickly.
Tristan sighed, looking down at Tir. Tir could see that the man was thinking and remained silent. Strangely, he wanted Tristan’s approval, although he didn’t know why. This man was a stranger and yet he wasn’t. He was a link to a mother that he had loved so very much, and who seemed to love her as much as he did. It went beyond the politic implications, for it was hard at the moment to think of Tristan as a king and what his disapproval could mean. Tir genuinely wanted Tristan the man to approve of his choice, of his new life.
“This wasn’t how I expected things to go,” Tristan sighed. “Although you have my eyes it seems you are very much like your mother.”
“Perhaps, but I think there is more than a little of you in me as well. This room… I don’t think there is a place that I would feel more comfortable in,” Tir said with a relieved smile.
“You like to study?” Tristan asked surprised.
“It was what I wanted to do before mother died. I wanted to be a scholar. I love books and learning new things. My curiosity has gotten me into more trouble than anything else,” Tir replied with a small laugh.
“Feel free to use this room whenever you want,” Tristan said almost eagerly. “If you want, perhaps I could teach you a few things as time permits.”
“I would like that,” Tir smiled tentatively as he looked up at Tristan, feeling unexpectedly happy at the offer, hoping that perhaps this man might actually become more than just a stranger to him. It was a start.