An Excerpt from The Nightshade's Apprentice

Chapter One

I’m fifteen years old, and I feel infinite.
There’s a man behind the lightly-colored oaken desk; he leans forward into the flickering light of burning candles. We’re far from the sunlight, and he wears upon his brown face an expression of faint amusement. It is the first time I really get a good look at him.
His expression is exquisite, unshakeable, and rugged. The lines of his skin tell me immediately that he has seen much hard work in his life. His papery flesh is a timeline of unending hardship. However, his eyes still shine with the reflection of the candlelight. They are tiny spots of blue in an otherwise colorless room, and he wears on his body a pale linen shirt with small wooden buttons.
Blue I suddenly realize is and always shall be my favorite color.
I associate blue with the ocean, that deep and dark place at the bottom of the Sea of Rwn. I am reminded of my lost home and my people who are no more. And I am convinced that Arioch, who rides the three chariots of fire across the sky, painted the heavens this color to remind all those who have seen death that life is a thing with no boundaries.
Blue has many shades.
The one in which I am most comfortable drapes the bright burning stars in a shawl at last sunset. The witching hour calls to me like a pair of amber eyes from the darkness, the prowling wolf that I have seen all my life, the hunter in the shadow. He is the one that taught me a man makes his own fate in life.
I call this phantom “Yellow Eyes” and though we never speak, we have mutual respect for one another.
Reluctantly, I take my eyes off him.
I’m nervous and a little uncomfortable.
His face, unlike mine, is concealed in bristling black whiskers, trimmed short and shiny and resembling a handful of steel wool. I utter no prayer because I have no god. Yet, I tremble at what he can see in my youthful face, which has seen human horrors but remains inadequate at hiding a lie.
I muse that I must seem a desperate urchin sitting there telling him my tale. I’m a street brat, malnourished and covered in dirt and mud, and my lovely locks of yellow hair are smeared with grease and ash.
“That’s quite a story,” he says. He reaches over his desk drawing himself closer to me and then grabs my hands. He inspects them, I suspect, for callouses.
I wonder if he believes me.
A ghastly moment of silence follows. I watch him study my face and my eyes. It is the perfect deception, this tenuous silence, meant to dislodge any notion I have for escape. He is my jailor now. This silence of his is meant to drown me in the subterfuge that I am a lost soul, the ghost of a man that calls out for help in the encroaching darkness.
I shudder, feeling hunger in my stomach, watching him play with a tangle of hair that droops near his ear. But I meet his eyes with mine. I never abandon a man’s gaze. And I watch him, those delicate folds of flesh over his pupils closing repeatedly atop spots of blue.
“Kian,” he says, trying out my name. “Kian Lightfoot.”
He studies me again. I wonder what it feels like to have such power. I am a youth he could murder, enslave, rape, or punish as he sees fit. Only the candle flames move, throwing their shimmer on the black tile floor like torches on a tide pool.
“I’m called Marcel. I’m the Daymaster of the thieves’ guild here in Clothol. I’m a fair man if treated with respect, and I can be vengeful if wronged.” He pauses, scraping his nails across the oaken desk. They are long, like a eunuch’s nails, and equally well cared for. “Do you know why you were brought here?”
I shrug my shoulders. “Not really.” I search the room, straining to hear the mice in the walls. He cracks his knuckles, popping them one at a time, staring at me in silence. When he speaks again, it is as a man with no strength, a voice hushed to a whisper before a storm. And he withdraws back into the arms of his leather chair accented with gold stitching and red buttons.
“No one ‘begs’ in Clothol without permission from the guild. Those that do usually wind up in shallow graves.”
“Darn the luck,” I reply.
He studies me with his eyes, and I curl my bony toes nervously.
“Would you like to become part of our family, Kian? You have a strong spirit. I admire that. I admire you. I ask this as an opportunist...from one man to another.”
I chuckle. Is that a smile I detect breaking at the corner of his mouth? “What is it that they say about opportunity?”
“That it rarely knocks twice. You’ve been taught how to use a sword. I need someone that can kill people quickly and quietly and using a sword is part of that. I can offer you this clandestine sanctuary,” he indicates, “a place to live and to toil. It’s a petty thing to destroy someone for the sake of destroying. Don’t you think?”
I honestly have no other choice. But I wait before I say yes. I want him to think that I’ve options even if I’ve none.
He whistles then, and I hear the only door to the room open behind me.
I turn and a girl walks into the office, the color rose in her face. She has short-cropped brilliantly colored red hair and a small mouth. The girl’s eyes shine like eastern jade. She inadvertently entices me with her legs. They’re wrapped in tight leather pants, and she sports a bosom hidden by a modest suede tunic. I notice instantly that she has the bearing of a woman much older, and I can feel myself respond, my lust growing hard between my legs.
Marcel gestures at me. “This is Kian.”
I don’t say anything. She probably thinks that I’m queer, mute, or dumb.
“I’m Ambrell,” she replies, facing me.
I smile, and she regards me with those pretty green eyes right before wrinkling her nose. “He’s a smelly one, isn’t he?” she asks.
I swallow my spit.
“Clean him up,” Marcel orders. “Get him a room and introduce him to Swift. Oh, and feed him. I want him ready for training in the morning. Constantine may want to see him. Kian’s exactly what he’s been begging for.”
Who is this Constantine?
“Anything else?” she asks, gently placing a hand on my shoulder. She gives me a reassuring squeeze with her fingers and winks at me. I like her instantly.
“Nothing else,” Marcel replies.
Without hesitation, she grabs me by my soiled smock. I can smell the perfume she’s wearing, and it reminds me of the drifting plumes of incense that once haunted my dreams in opium parlors across the city. Distilled from the poppy, I relied on opium for nearly a decade to kill the pain of anal sex before tortuous orgies that called for a pretty boy hole to please wicked men.
I’m now free of the flower, but the allure still calls to my soul. I’m drawn to drugs like a moth to a flame.
Those first weeks in prison were hell. I’d have never made it without Cutter. The knight showed me mercy and taught me what I knew of swords. He also gave me my surname, because the brand on my foot made me limp in a way that amused the guards.
I gaze at Ambrell over the bridge of my perfect nose. She fascinates me. She’s a glorious vixen who promises the biggest change of my life. “Let’s go,” she says, taking my hand in hers. “The air is beginning to turn a bit ripe.”
“Do I smell that bad?” I ask. I know that I do, but I want to hear her speak.
“If you really want me to answer that...yes.”
Ambrell ushers me into a torch-filled corridor, and I follow her down a flight of barren little steps made from planks of ash. We arrive in a sun-filled eating room where several lads sit stuffing their faces with gruel and bread from the myriad plates in front of them.
However, I realize that for the first time in my wandering, I’m in a safe refuge.
And the thought of no more removes any thoughts I have of food, at least for a while. She opens a door for me, and there’s another stairwell going down. The walls in this one are made from closely fit granite blocks, chisel marks still clearly imprinted upon their surface like the fossils of a much older time. The stairs, like all others in this place, are made from the planks of closely fitted ash. This particular set is worn down in the middle where the deep brown varnish fades to a pale yellow.
“Did you take a dip in the sewer?”
“Yes. But, I had no choice,” I say, trying to justify my answer. “I-I just recently escaped from prison.”
She pauses at the bottom of the stair and regards me by torchlight. She purses her lips. “A fugitive, eh? We’ll have to cut your hair then. I’ll get you some clothes too...while you bathe.”
“Thank you,” I manage to say. My hair falls to the middle of my back. I wonder how I’ll look when she cuts it.
She doesn’t say you’re welcome. But her body language tells me that she appreciates my candor. We walk across the corridor to a portal framed in oak beams and into a brightly illuminated salon where a large iron tub lined with linen sheets squats on the floor directly opposite a pot of boiling water. The cauldron rests on a hook above a small fire. Other than these two objects, the only other pieces of furniture in the room are a table holding a pair of gloves and a chair made from pine.
“Here, help me with this.” She gestures at the pot.
I don the gloves and together, we heft the pot over to the iron tub where I tilt it and empty its contents completely into the basin.
“There’s a room at the end of this hall,” she says. “In that room there’s a well. You can draw as much cold water from it as you’d like.” Ambrell takes out a bit of string from a small bag of black satin dangling from her belt. Then she measures my waistline and the length of my leg and my arms. “All right,” she says. “Wash and I’ll come back in an hour. Oh and there’s towels in the cabinet there. And here’s some soap.”
When I don’t say anything, she responds, “You’re not stupid are you? You understand what I’ve told you?”
“Yes,” I say. “Sorry, I didn’t think you were through talking. That’s all.”
Ambrell lets out a sigh. Then she shakes her head. “It’s okay, you know. We’re equals here. You can interrupt me whenever you like. If I don’t like it, or what you say, I’ll tell you.”
I grin. “All right. That seems reasonable enough.”
She moves my hair from in front of my eyes. “I wonder what you look like under all this. You’re probably quite handsome.” She pauses as if considering something. “I think we’ll get along just fine, Kian.”
Before Ambrell leaves, she looks up into my eyes. I realize now that I’m maybe a couple inches taller than her.
“I’ll be back in a few with some shears. I think off the collar should be fine.” Then Ambrell exits, walking in the predictable manner of girls wanting a man to notice.
I grab the bucket sitting next to the iron tub and regard the steamy water with my tired eyes. “Equals,” I say to myself. “I’m going to like this concept.
I soak until my skin prunes, and then I get out. By now the water is only lukewarm.
With my eyes on the fire, I dry myself. I barely see her enter and drop the bundle of clothes into the chair.
I drop my towel on purpose so that she can see my naked body. I know I’m beautiful because I’ve been told that all my life. I walk to the clothes and study them, and her eyes follow me about the room as expected. I like it when people watch me like this. I feel her gaze crawl across my skin like marching ants, and I’m aware of a small gasp just about to burst upon her lips as she spies something unexpected.
She’s probably never seen someone my size before, and I’ve to act all innocent as if I don’t know how exceptionally endowed I am. The thing between my legs made my former master rich; men couldn’t believe such a slab of meat could be found on a boy of twelve.
And they paid purses of gold to suck on it until my skin grew raw.
But Ambrell surprises me. With professional reserve, she catches this expression at the last moment. Disappointment fills me, because it might have led to something we both might treasure.
Life is filled with these kinds of tragic irony.
“Thank you,” I say, breaking the silence. Her green irises lift from my steaming body, and she meets my gaze with a look I’m growing all too familiar.
“Sit down,” she says. Her voice has a lilt to it, barely detectable, but a lilt nonetheless. “Here, I’ll cut your hair for you. It’s better if we get to it while it’s still damp.”
I take a seat on the edge of the tub.
“By Tethyr, you’ve a lot of tangles here.”
She lifts a wooden comb to my yellow locks and smooths them between her fingers. Her touch is gentle and comfortable to me.
“Who’s Tethyr?” I ask. She snags my hair with the comb as she works on it and twice I feel a sharp pain.
She stops for a moment. “How can you not know who Tethyr is?”
When I don’t answer she continues.
“Tethyr’s the god of thieves,” she says. “Everyone knows that.”
“I didn’t.”
“Well... you’d have to be a dolt not to.”
She makes me chuckle. “Why do you worship him?”
Ambrell starts to snip at my locks then, and I see the golden curls of my damp hair falling to the polished tiles beneath my feet. “Tethyr,” she continues, “is the god that keeps us safe. He watches over us and protects us. He’s the great Father of all that we see.”
“Is he a good god then?” I ask. More of my hair is collecting on the floor. I’m surprised at how overgrown I’ve become.
“Well, I’d say that he’s neither good nor evil but whatever one makes of him.”
I laugh. “Does he really exist?”
She pauses her cutting then. “I think it all has to do with what a person believes. At some point someone must’ve seen him, or else we wouldn’t even know about him. Does that make sense?” She turns me around in the seat and holds a mirror to my face. “I guess that’s what faith is--believing in what you can’t see or touch. So in answer to your question…yes, Tethyr’s real. But don’t take my word for it. The priest upstairs assures me he’s like pain, hunger, or even the sun in the sky. Tethyr gives the faithful strength and magic! I’ve seen the priest perform miracles. That kind of power has to come from somewhere, right?”
“Magic,” I say with contempt thick on my tongue. “Magic is gone from the world. What remains are parlor tricks employed by entertainers to separate the gullible from their coin. You’re a fool if you think it’s real sorcery.”
“I’m not. I swear by Tethyr’s teeth that I speak the truth.”
I stare at her trying to find lies resting behind those pupils, but I see none. “How can you be so sure? Can you recognize magic when you see it?”
“Real honest-to-god sorcery?”
“I know what magic you’re talking about,” she states. “And yes...spells. I’ve seen wounds close of their own volition.”
I’ve always been a bit secular in my outlook. I’ve never believed in any god, not after my people drowned in a swirling ocean of blood. There’d been temples and glories enough in the city where I lived. But no magic saved us. And I couldn’t bring myself to think that the priests in those temples hadn’t prayed to their gods for salvation. I meet her gaze.
“Have you always been this charming, Kian?” she asks me.
“Charming? In what way?”
She shrugs her shoulders. “You’re so filled with questions.” She pulls the hair back from my brow with damp fingertips. “I was right. You are very handsome,” she remarks.
There follows a moment of silence in which I wonder if I should kiss her.
“Thank you,” I whisper. I question her with my eyes; I look at her as if asking, “Do you really mean this?” but in fact I say nothing.
Her eyes fail to answer me. She fixes them on the pile of clothes that she’s brought in with her. “Why don’t we see if these’ll fit you?”
I grab a thick blue sweater and a pair of leather boots. I push my head through the top of the shirt and let it drop over my moist torso. The fabric feels course against my bare skin, and there’s a collar I can button around my neck if I want. The pants are a bit loose, but I tighten them with a belt. I stuff the ends of them into the tops of the leather boots, the insides of which are lined in soft rabbit’s fur. However, they’re awfully tight, and I figure I’ll have a few blisters before too long.
I finish combing my hair when the door opens and another youth about my age leans inside. He’s wearing a similar outfit, only his is brown. The youth wears a leather bandolier slung over one shoulder and a sword rests between his muscular shoulders.
I find him very attractive and admire his narrow face and dauntless turquoise eyes. His hair is medium-length and brown. I imagine it feels as soft as a mouse.
“Ambrell,” he says, catching his breath. He’s flushed from running, and his hair is a bit windblown and messy. “Marcel needs to see you.”
She presses her lips together. It must be a habit of hers. “Will you be all right?” she asks me.
“I guess so. Can I poke around a bit?”
She turns her back on me and waves at the young man in the door. He walks over to us with the gait of someone that’s exceptionally athletic and possibly a bottom. Then again, that’s probably my own lust talking to me. But if the gods are real, I pray that they give me a chance to find out. I note he has a piercingly genuine smile filled with gleaming teeth. “This is Talen,” she says introducing him to me.
I extend my hand, and Talen shakes it firmly.
“What do you think?” Talen asks me.
I shrug my shoulders. “Think about what?”
Talen smiles. “It’s a greeting. What do you think--a farthing for your thoughts--something along those lines.”
“Ahh,” I say. Then I wink at him. I must look stupid, but it’s the only thing I can think to do. Why the hell does my mind empty like this when I’m faced with an opportunity to make a friend?
“Are you hungry?” he asks.
I stare at the floor a moment. “Yes, but I don’t have any money.”
“I’ll buy. But you’ll have to listen to one of my jokes.”
“Okay,” I agree, waiting.
“Say, have you ever heard why dragons have big noses?”
I think for a moment. “No. I can’t say that I’ve ever met a dragon.”
Talen rolls his eyes. “Tough crowd tonight,” he says. “But I’ll loosen you up, old boy. It’s because air is free.”
I don’t know what to say.
“Get it? Dragons like gold? It’s supposed to be funny, Kian. You need to laugh when I tell you a joke or I might punch you.”
I smile. “Have you ever met a dragon?” I ask him.
“My mother,” he replies. “What a shrew. Follow me, Kian,” he announces and heads up the stairs two and three at a time.
I decide that even if he weren’t good looking, I’d want to be his friend. I can only hope he feels the same way.
I could really use a friend right now.
An hour passes, and I fill my stomach with a small meal of bread, meat, and cheese smothered with thick gravy. During this lunch, Talen and I exchange stories, revealing more and more of our past with each word.
His eyes are very big and trusting, and he swallows what I tell him without questioning. When it’s his turn to speak, he offers up delightful stories of his own life as a professional thief. Through his narrative, I’m surprised to find that there are kids much younger than I who call this place home. For the first time, I’m surrounded by people who are just as broken as me.
It’s humbling to contemplate.
But there are also older men and women here full of wisdom and experience. I listen to their conversations and come to understand they live for the moment, always skirting a translucent curtain that divides the living from the dead.
Talen is loved by the people who live here, and his effect on them is magical. Even I fall under his spell, wondering what it would be like to make love to him.
I think I would like it a lot and imagine his asshole is comfortably tight. Talen brings people together that normally would not mix. Take Gage and Elliot. These two have been friends for years and were probably very much alike at one point. But with time, they grew apart as each became invested in other things. Gage shares my years, is a bit overweight, and a little dim-witted. Elliot is a bit older and is the smart one of the two. However, because of Talen, they remain in each other’s orbit. Gage has learned to trust Elliot, and goes along with whatever his friend says. He’s become a born follower. Some people are just like that.
Then there’s Trippy. I call him a spook because of his mood swings. They’re so huge, they lie somewhere between suicidal and manic, depending on what time of day it is and what drugs he’s using.
Trippy’s also into knives in a big way...always sharpening them and intimidating whoever happens to be close, by staring at them down the length of the blade. He behaves badly toward me, and I confess to Talen much later that I don’t like him very much.
Talen agrees with me, putting his arm around my shoulder. The touch of Talen’s skin electrifies my body, but I say nothing, even as my dick swells and pushes down my left leg almost to the kneecap.
Gods how embarrassing. There are some days I curse having been gifted a horse cock by the fairies that deliver such things to newborns along with eye color, hair color, and other such blessings.
“He uses all that knife-sharpening as a means of projecting hostility,” Talen states. “He doesn’t trust anyone. But I got into a scuffle with him a little over a year ago and almost killed him. I knocked out four of his teeth. Since then, he hasn’t messed with me and as long as you stay close, he won’t mess with you either. Course, you could kick the remaining teeth out of his mouth, make a necklace of it, and then he’d have a reason to fear us both.”
I’ve got to admit, a string of human teeth sounds intriguing; I wonder how many teeth are in Trippy’s head. Talen’s an instant best friend, and I feel comfortable saying that now. I just hope he’s no one else’s best friend.
There’s no use being best in anything if you have to share it.
Finally, I meet Sly and Misha who seem to complete our gathering of companions. If you’ve ever met anyone that thinks they’re clever and in reality they’re not...well you’ve met Sly. He’s a scraggly man in his mid-twenties with bald patches on his skull and the rest of his hair hanging long, limp, and somewhat greasy. Sly’s pear-shaped, meaning that his butt and hips are wider than his torso.
Misha on the other hand is refreshing in a bright way.
She looks upon the world with the eyes of a woman who has nothing to prove. She’s neither a braggart nor a drinker. Physically, she’s ugly with a larger-than-normal sized head. But I quickly learn this might be due to a larger-than-normal sized brain.
Misha’s very smart.
But her hands shake. Maybe she got dropped on her skull as a child. You don’t pick it out right away, but it’s there--that trembling--and it grows more noticeable when she’s playing cards.
Nicki is Misha’s friend and has gold-plaited hair and a silver laugh. When I say silver I mean it has clarity to it like the tone of a perfectly made bell. Nicki’s part of a troupe that dances in the town square for money. While she does so, another team of thieves sifts through the crowd cutting the strings to pouches and lifting noble men from the burden of expensive jewelry.
I use a piece of bread to mop the gravy pooling on my plate, and Nicki walks over and begins to perform the devil’s dance for us. There’s no music in the room, but my eyes can’t see anything else except for her narrow, sweaty waist which shines golden in the light. She moves her hips just so, swaying from side-to-side and places one of her feet between Talen’s legs near the bulge of his crotch.
That draws my eye as I note a thickening there in his tight pants.
Talen leans against the wall, folding his hands behind his head. And he watches her toss her hair over the shoulder and run her fingers suggestively on the top of her skin. Talen finally breaks down and seizes her about the waist. He pushes his long narrow fingers down the line of her tummy, under the cloth, and they come up wet.
Hell, I can’t blame him.
But for the first time in my life, I’m jealous of the girl.
She wants Talen, and she got him. I should have seen this coming. For the better part of an hour before the dance, Nicki took the curved end of a wooden comb and sucked on it, sliding it repeatedly over her lips, poising it, teasing it on her tongue.
Obviously, she wanted something other than to fix her hair.
I watch Talen and Nicki kiss and share each other’s breath. I stare at his soft pink tongue flicking between his lips, which I only see briefly like the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings.
Nicki’s lips move. A soft moan follows every twitch of Talen’s buried fingers.
I tap mine nervously on the table wondering what the other guys around me are thinking. Secretly, I wish I could rub one out because my balls ache.
I know these men wish they were in his place. I’m the only one wishing I was in her place. I wish for the pleasure of a dark room, and Talen’s heated sweaty body looking magnificent by the light of the moon. He’s got a torso that I imagine is covered in muscular definition. But he’s probably never been touched by a boy, and I want to be his first. He’s one I want to explore and finger and wait until his hole loosens enough that I can comfortably fuck it while still bringing pleasure to his mouth with my own.
I leave Talen alone, which is more than I can say for the others in the room.
Voyeurs all of them and Talen’s the exhibitionist.
My new home belongs to the city, which is a stench-ridden, noisy, and crowded place. It’s surrounded on four sides by garbage-choked alleys and narrow streets so unimportant that they have no names. From what I can tell, the building proper has three stories with each story hanging over the one just below it by a few feet. The walls of the place are white-washed and there are windows all along the main floor and a few narrow ones on the floor directly above and on top. I count several stone chimneys on each side of the building. The bricks are old and pockmarked with ivy and easily scalable. As I’m standing there, I spot a pair of eyes staring down at me from the highest visible point. But when I squint and look again, there’s no one there.
The name that Marcel dropped from his lips in my first meeting surfaces in my mind. “Who are you?” I ask to no one. Something tells me that Constantine already knows everything about me. Yet I know nothing of him.
After Talen bred Nicki, he catches me rubber-necking a hungry crowd that’s encroached on the prone body of a street urchin perished from starvation. I’m two blocks from the thieves’ guild. I came here to watch a parade. Everyone I passed for the last hour spoke of one, but this is all I found.
“It’s the plague!” some of them exclaim.
How ignorant, I think to myself.
Talen athletically alights the wall where I’m sitting. He smells of ocean, but I don’t say anything. I watch this drama of marvelously simple people, gasp and point fingers, gathering their expensive clothes and robes about them to save themselves from a disease that doesn’t exist.
“Have you ever been anyplace else?” he asks me.
I’ve dreamt of other places,” I say. “In my mind’s eye I’ve seen faraway lands of forests and jungles. I’ve seen towering mountains clouded over with mist, revealing their majestic beauty for my eyes alone to behold.”
I glance at Talen. He jerks away--a reaction that indicates he might be attracted to me but is uncomfortable with this feeling. Or am I reading him wrong?
“I’ve never been out of the country,” he says, remorsefully. “I’m fifteen, and I don’t know what lies to the north or to the far west or across the Gulf of Ventikor. I was a broken lad when I came to stay here almost a year ago.”
He trails off with another story, and I suppose that he’s thinking about something that he doesn’t necessarily want me to know. I won’t prod him for his hidden truth. Everybody that comes to a place like this has a thing buried deep inside. It’s a vault in the heart which locks away the tender remnants of innocence.
If Talen wants me to know, he’ll tell me.
There are three suns in my world, and though I suspect other worlds do exist I could never imagine a sky not filled with their fire. I watch as first sunset (that time when the first of the three suns disappears completely beneath the horizon) embraces the world. For a moment, everything is brightened by simple colors of yellow and red. Then purple closes in and the skies darken.
The shadows lengthen.
I feel hungry again. “Can we go inside and eat?”
Talen’s sharpening a knife on a stone. “Yeah.” He feels around in his belt and pulls out two small engraved copper coins. “I can buy us dinner, Kian.”
“I’ll pay you back,” I say.
Talen regards me with a sober expression. God his eyes are beautiful. Then he laughs.
“You’re the first thief I’ve met that’s said that! How splendid. If we eat at the guild it costs us less. That way you won’t work up much of a debt.” He hugs me and for a moment I almost kiss him. “Come, my honest thief. Let’s eat.”
I follow him joyfully into the guild house where I get a meal and follow him up a set of stairs I’ve never explored. They’re much the same as every other stairwell in the house. But to my surprise, Talen shows me a room at the top that looks out above the entryway and into the guild through a set of double windows crisscrossed with wooden mullions.
I love small wooden rooms.
Talen invites Sly, Misha, and another girl named Ashley to join us. There’s a plate glass window just opposite the small fireplace and it fills the apartment with heat.
Over dinner, I crouch back on a stuffed leather chair next to the window and sip from my ale cup. Animated from the alcohol in his blood, Talen devises several clever stories and outlines them for us on the surface of a worn table using his finger.
After dinner, we play cards and take partners. Ashley lays her head experimentally against my shoulder. Misha changes our game to canasta at the turn of the hour, and I wait for a few minutes before I suggest strip poker.
All I want is a chance to beat Talen, to see him naked. Strip poker seems a safe bet.
But it never pans out.
Ashley whispers something to Talen. I can’t make out the invitation to fuck her perhaps?
But the change in his mood is considerable. Talen balls his right fist and his angelic mouth that I can only dream of having wrapped around my cock, goes sullen. He tosses his cards and sits back in his chair, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. Then he steeples them before his chest.
There’s silence at the table now. I’ve heard say that an uncomfortable silence breaks every seven minutes.
I lament that I’ll not see him naked.
“Are you ready for bed, Kian?” he asks.
“Yes, I suppose,” I say.
“Let’s go and get you a room; tomorrow’s going to be a busy day for you. Good evening, gents. Ladies,” Talen says, nodding at Ashley and Misha. I can tell something weighs heavily upon his person, but I’ve no idea how to ask him about it.
I pause at the door.
Unexpectedly, Talen hugs me, and his eyes are filled with sadness and concern.
    I realize what must have been said probably concerns me.

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