Authors: Scarlet Hyacinth
The fae’s face fell at the chill in his tone, his silver eyes flashing with pain, but it couldn’t be helped. Karein’s dragon lashed its tail out furiously, demanding what in the world Karein thought he was doing. Because Karein, as a man, and as a beast, knew all too well that the lovely fae standing in front of him was his true mate.
His instinct was to lunge forward and touch Sareltae, to crush his lips to Sareltae’s full ones. He wanted to free Sareltae’s white-blond tresses from the elegant hairdo and hold onto those locks as he thrust his dick in and out of the fae’s body. He wanted to brush his fingers over the gem glittering in the center of Sareltae’s forehead. He’d already realized that his fantasy hadn’t been about Prince Talrasar, but about Sareltae, so he knew that it might have not been just imagination after all. He understood how good he and Sareltae would fit together.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, his brother intervened before he could do any of the things he wanted. Hareem stepped forward and made a courtly, appropriate bow. “Your presence honors us,” he said. “Should you want for anything during your stay, either I or my siblings would be more than happy to provide it.”
Karein wanted to punch his brother. Why was Hareem always the charming one? He should keep the smooth-talking for the werewolf he’d stashed away from their father.
“Your generosity humbles us,” the Ivenian princess, Charlize, answered.
Karein honestly didn’t want to hear any more of the lies both parties were spouting. He just wished he could drag Sareltae away from this room and fuck him until neither of them could walk. His dragon craved it more than anything in the world, even his freedom, even peace between the nations.
From the beginning of time, draechen had always valued their mates a great deal. At first, almost all draechen had eventually found their mates. But in Karein’s time, it had become next to impossible. Karein only knew a handful of people who’d had the luck to encounter their other half. He had long ago abandoned hope that he’d be granted this amazing gift.
But he had to be patient and wait. Sareltae’s brother, Misael, provided him with the perfect, and most unwanted, distraction. “If I may, Your Majesties, I bring a message from my father.”
“Oh?” The empress arched an elegant brow. “What does King Selbrian wish to convey to us?”
“As you know, Father respects your ways and our traditions a great deal. Therefore, we greatly emphasize the value of a true mate bond. While we are, of course, honored by the union of our houses, the fact remains that this marriage would be a political one. Therefore, Father requests that my brother should not be forced into a mind link as only true mates should have.”
“Oh, don’t they think they’re clever,”
Karein’s father said in his mind.
“They know you can draw out everything he knows out of that whore’s mind. Won’t they be surprised? Tell them that we agree to their conditions. Sareltae will share with Shtamakarein no more and no less than he chooses.”
As the emperor indicated, Rowenasheb said, “Of course, we wouldn’t ask for anything Sareltae isn’t comfortable with. We’re quite certain that he and Shtamakarein will have an excellent marriage, but we agree that Sareltae can make his own choices with regard to what he shares with our son.”
While she spoke, Kavehquader directed his attention solely on Karein.
“It seems, son, that you’re going to have a more difficult task at hand. Instead of forcing your way into Sareltae’s mind, you’ll have to seduce him.”
Karein just nodded since he couldn’t reply without the fae overhearing. He decided to start complying to his emperor’s order at once. After all, it was what he wanted anyway. The reason behind it might not be ideal, but it still allowed him to be less cold to his mate, and Karein was thankful for that.
Misael looked surprised and a little wary that his proposal had been accepted so readily. He shared a puzzled glance with his sister and threw a look toward Sareltae. The younger fae was completely focused on Karein, though. He licked his lips in what seemed to be a subconscious gesture, and the action almost made Karein soil his elegant uniform. If the fae didn’t stop looking at him like that, Karein couldn’t hope to hold back, in spite of the discipline he’d cultivated all throughout his life.
Distantly, he heard his mother continue to speak, “On this note, we do have a personal request. We’d like for the wedding to be held here, at the end of this week. I trust that is satisfactory for you, as it would allow the future mates to get to know each other a little, too.”
“I’d have to speak with my father to confirm the date,” Misael answered.
“Understandable,” the empress answered. “You can send him a message from here. In the meantime, you are, of course, our guests.”
Karein realized with a dose of despair that the fae were being dismissed. Overlords only knew when he’d get to see his mate again. Taking a deep breath, he decided to chance his parents’ disapproval and offered, “Should Prince Sareltae feel it adequate, I’d be honored to show him around.”
The fae blushed prettily. If he was trying to keep himself from showing the truth about them, it certainly didn’t seem like he was doing a very good job about it. The coy look the fae threw Karein’s way made him wonder just how he looked at people during sex, but that brought to mind questions he’d rather not answer. He didn’t want to think about Sareltae’s previous lovers. Instead, he focused purely on the fae prince’s words.
“I wouldn’t presume to impose on Your Highness’s time,” Sareltae said, “but if you so desire, I’d love to get to know your beautiful home.”
Yeah, right. Beautiful home. If Karein had wanted to come up with a description for the palace, he certainly wouldn’t have associated those two words with it, either together or separately. Nevertheless, Sareltae’s reply was more than satisfactory, both polite and enthusiastic.
“For now, you’re probably tired from your trip,” the empress said. “Go with Akarawem. She will lead you to your rooms. You’ll be able to get accustomed to Draechenburg later on.”
Karein could do nothing but watch his mate leave. He wanted to at least ask Sage to guard Sareltae, to make sure the fae had someone watching his back in this place where enemies hid behind any corner. His lieutenant would, of course, be mindful of their guests’ behavior, but what Karein knew now changed everything.
Akara led the fae—Sareltae included—out of the throne room, and the heavy doors closed behind them. “Well, that was informative,” Hareem said once they were granted privacy. “They’re certainly hiding something.”
“We’ve already established that,”
the emperor replied through his telepathic power.
“But not to worry. The fae rely on the loyalty of their prince to get them out of this. It won’t work.”
“Just don’t overdo it, Shtamakarein,” his mother warned. “They’d never believe that a draechen general would be so generous with his time out of the kindness of his heart.”
“I will be careful,” Karein promised, “but I feel that it’s preferable to set the basis of the relationship right now, so that I can exploit it later.”
“Shtamakarein is correct,”
the emperor said.
“Seduce the fae, son, and crush his heart under your boots. I can see already that he is attracted to you. It will be up to you to use that lust for your purposes. We will sign an agreement upon your mating, pointing out Sareltae’s obligations and yours. Once the fae breaks his part—as you will make sure happens—the world of the fae will fall.”
“And you’ll get a conduit to siphon your excess energies in the process.” The empress grinned. “Aren’t you happy, my son?”
“I live and die by your command,” Karein said, unable to find a reply that wouldn’t in one way or another give him away. Actually, yes, he was happy, but for the first time in his life, he was also terrified.
Right now, the emperor had chosen a slow and careful strategy for his plan to defeat the fae. However, if he saw that Karein made no progress, he would go for a more aggressive stance. Since the end result of it all was undoubtedly world domination, he would have no qualms in attacking anyone who got in the way, whether they were other shifters or magical creatures. The thought horrified Karein, and now more than ever, he not only had to worry about his people, but also for a mate who’d unexpectedly popped up in his life. What was he going to do?
A few hours later
“Sage! Come here.”
Sage turned away from the guard he’d been talking to, only to see his general approaching. As always, Prince Shtamakarein looked completely calm and composed, but there was something about him that immediately made Sage realize something wasn’t quite right.
The fae. The fae had done something already. Sage gritted his teeth to suppress his anger and frustration. He knew it was disloyal of him not to agree with his emperor, but he still believed that this mating was in no way fair to his general. After everything Prince Shtamakarein had done for the draechen, after all the effort he put into making the world a safer place, he deserved better than a political marriage. He had never been told outright what reasons his leaders had for making this choice, but whatever they were, he still wished his general could refuse.
But Sage was only a soldier, and he couldn’t intervene in those decisions. The only thing he could do was to be there for Prince Shtamakarein when the older draechen beckoned. “Yes, Your Highness?” he asked at once. “What is it?”
“I need a word.” The general gestured Sage to follow him, and together, they walked away from the other guard.
For a few moments, Shtamakarein didn’t say anything. Sage didn’t prod, knowing that walls had ears in the palace and aware of the secrets the prince kept. Finally, Prince Shtamakarein stepped outside, heading toward the cliff that served as a landing space for both modern aircrafts and draechen in shifted form. There were more guards all over the place, especially around the fae jet. They saluted as Shtamakarein passed, but the general didn’t stop, acknowledging them with only brisk nods.
As they reached the edge of the cliff, Shtamakarein started to take his clothes off. It was highly unlikely that he’d decided to take Sage up on his old offer to couple, so Sage surmised he planned to shift. Judging by the fact that the general had summoned Sage here, Shtamakarein probably wanted Sage to accompany him on a flight. It wasn’t unusual since they had many times done so in the past, especially when they needed to discuss issues of grave importance. Sage knew better than to believe the prince shared everything with him, but in some respects, Shtamakarein trusted him.
And so, Sage pulled off his own uniform and summoned his beast. As always, it took a little time for him to change shapes, and by the time he finished, a majestic black dragon already stood in front of him.
The general launched himself into the air, and Sage didn’t hesitate in following his example. As they flew away from the cliff, he wondered what in the world had determined the prince to demand this sudden departure from the palace. He had been monitoring the fae, but so far, he couldn’t imagine what they could have done. Like she had been told, Princess Akarawem had led them to their quarters and strongly suggested that they should stay there until dinner. They had the freedom to move around—after all, the emperor could hardly make them prisoners—but they had guards on them at all times.
It seemed that the prince had every intention to explain the situation. When they were far enough away, Shtamakarein flew down, heading toward the forest beneath. Both he and Sage landed on the grassy ground and changed shapes. “What is the matter, Highness?” Sage inquired as soon as his dragon allowed him to speak.
“What I’m going to tell you now is very important, Sage.” Shtamakarein gave him a serious look. “Before I speak, I need to know something. You have been in my service for decades, and you’ve never disappointed me. Recently, you’ve given me a show of loyalty that I have not forgotten. But I have to hear from your mouth. Who do you trust? Who do you obey? Emperor Kavehquader or me?”
It was a tricky question. Usually, obeying Shtamakarein meant that, indirectly, he was following Kavehquader’s orders. It seemed that, this time around, things would be different. Sage considered the question and decided to provide an honest reply. “As a draechen, I am aware that my duty is above all to Ornoz. But if I were to choose, if I was presented with an either-or option, I would always say that you are the one I trust.”
If this was a trap, Sage could have easily signed his own death sentence by saying that. But being in the general’s command for decades had taught him a thing or two about Shtamakarein. No matter what rumors said, Prince Shtamakarein wasn’t mindlessly ruthless. He did what he had to do and obeyed the Directive, as they all had to. He caught the rebels, but insofar as he could, kept the other draechen from being unnecessarily cruel toward the captives. Sage would have never continued in the job he loathed so much, if not for Prince Shtamakarein’s example. Someone had to enforce the Directive, and if the general didn’t do it, another draechen would, and likely he wouldn’t have Shtamakarein’s scruples.
“I thank you for your honesty,” Shtamakarein replied. “The truth is, Sage, I don’t know what to do anymore.”
He paused, as if struggling for words, and Sage could see how hard it was for the general to ask anyone’s help with this. “Is this about the fae?” he prodded gently.
The general nodded. “What I’m going to say now can go no further. This is extremely important. I cannot stress enough how vital secrecy is.”
“You can rely on me, Highness,” Sage replied without hesitation. “I won’t let you down. I swear it.”
Shtamakarein seemed pleased with his reply. “My father is planning a war against the fae. This entire wedding is a ruse. He means to use Prince Sareltae as an excuse to start the war. Suffice to say, I want to prevent that.”
Sage couldn’t have agreed more. He might have become a soldier, but his only goal was to protect his people and Ornoz. Things were already difficult enough without the draechen shattering an already-frail state of affairs. “But what can be done, Highness? The Emperor seeks more power. It’s natural for him to expand toward the magical creatures.”