Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
Ky made her way back to the stables and finished up all of her chores, then scarfed down her evening meal and went to her room. Her “room” was just a small stall in need of repair that Broer had turned into a room for his stable hand. The floor was made of dirt and was scattered liberally with hold hay, with square bales of hay stacked in the right corner, opposite the narrow door.
The stall was barely half as large as the one Zivyn stayed in, but it was suitable, and Alcan had made it comfortable. When he got promoted to the castle and got to move inside, to a real cot, he’d left behind a make-shift hammock strung up in the corner for Ky.
She kept her few belongings in a neat stack in the corner diagonal from the hay bales. Ky sat down with her back against the wall and pulled a small copy of the Holy Book that Alcan had swiped from the king’s library out from under her singular change of clothes. She grabbed the pencil and paper Alcan gave her and began copying down more lines from the Book.
It was helpful to have a friend in the castle. He could tell her the gossip of the court, and sneak her scraps of delightful food, and bring her books from the library on occasion. It was good to have the religious writings back. Father was the Elder for their township and always let her read aloud from the Book each evening, and she’d missed it in the few months that passed between her being taken from her sector and Alcan moving to the palace.
As the light faded away, Ky hid the Book and her copy once more, and crawled into her hammock. She closed her eyes and decided to fall asleep as she was praying. She had a lot to think about, and it was hard to process everything surrounding Aleth’s arrival. She needed help to get out of this mess alive, and to stay courageous as she navigated the situation.
The next morning, she awoke early and went to work, feeding and watering all of the horses in the stable, and then beginning the process of exercising them. She started with the young mare named Esei that Broer wanted her to train. It was a sizeable task.
When Ky first started working with her, Esei wouldn’t be led and wouldn’t let anyone even saddle her, much less sit in the saddle. But they’d been, slowly but surely, making progress. Ky saddled her and took her out to the ring behind the stable, then mounted, bracing herself for the response.
As predicted, Esei threw a fit. Ky held tight as Esei bucked and pranced all across the ring and then back again, then slowly began snorting and pawing. She shook her head angrily as she came to terms with the fact that Ky wasn’t getting off.
Ky felt a pang of nostalgia. She’d been in the process of breaking a green horse years ago, when the soldiers brought her to the castle. She still enjoyed the ride as much as she had back then – the thrill of anticipating the horse’s every move and acting quick enough to counter it. Leaning into and away from the bucking to keep her balance.
And yet thinking back on how it used to be made her miss it, more than she could enjoy the present moment. In a past lifetime she could jump off the saddle and go running inside to tell Father about her day. Now she could only talk to herself, and try to pretend like the distance between them didn’t hurt Father’s heart as much as it hurt her own.
Ky squeezed Esei’s sides, trying to make her go forward. She started bucking again. Ky patiently waited for her to finish, and, when she came to a stop, squeeze her sides again. After several cycles of squeezing then bucking then squeezing again, she slowly began cooperating, and pranced forward when Ky asked.
A slow clap radiated up from the opposite edge of the arena.
Ky looked up and saw Aleth standing next to the gate. She felt the acerbic taste of bile rise in the back of her throat as she looked at him, stomach instantly sick. The one joy she had in life, and he had to sour it.
“Excellent riding, Ky!” Aleth called.
“Thank you, sir,” she answered, hesitating for a long moment. Her sense of propriety wanted her to dismount; it’d be polite to walk over and speak with him, since he was clearly seeking her out. And yet, Rifkin’s instructions to remain busy echoed in her ears. She wasn’t about to volunteer another conversation if he didn’t force it.
“How about you take a break for now?”
“Yes, sir,” she muttered through clenched teeth. She hesitated another moment then slid off Esei’s back and led her towards the gate, fighting with her every step of the way as she tugged against the lead rope. Ky unlatched the gate and walked through, leading the horse back to the stables.
She sighed silently as Aleth fell into step next to her, opposite Esei. Ky put the horse in her stall and then turned towards Aleth, frustrated at his persistence, mind racing for any excuse to get rid of him.
“I need you to come carry my trunk down to my carriage,” Aleth stated.
“With all due respect, sir, that falls under the duties of the palace boys.” She was careful to keep the edge out of her voice, eyes on the floor. “I’d be happy to hitch your carriage up.”
“No,” Aleth answered, waving a hand dismissively. “I’d rather you come do it. I’m sure the king won’t mind.”
Ky was sure he wouldn’t, either. The king didn’t particularly care who served on him or his friends, as long as they were continually waited on hand and foot. She nodded, painfully aware of how outranked she was. So much for keeping herself too busy. “Yes, sir.”
“Great,” Aleth said brightly. “Come along, then.”
Aleth turned on his heel and started back towards the palace. Ky followed half a step behind, stomach twisting into tighter and tighter knots with each step that she took. Her gut was screaming at her to run; a tingle in her spine urging her to go anywhere but the bedroom. She straightened her shoulders and forced herself to keep pace with him.
There was nowhere else that she could go. He could interrogate her all he pleased, and not a single person would intervene. Makata wouldn’t care, Alcan and Broer didn’t have the authority to help her if they wanted to – she had no one to protect her from him, and no leverage to protect herself.
Aleth pushed the door to his room open and stepped inside, holding it open for Ky. She walked through, eyes landing on the chest. It was still thrown open and unpacked, clearly not ready to be hauled down to the carriage. She frowned. Surely, he didn’t expect a stable boy to pack his luggage for him.
The door clicked lock behind her. Ky whirled around, heart lurching at the sound.
“You’ve been lying to me, Ky.” Suddenly Aleth’s cheery demeanor was gone. His eyes were dark and his eyebrows drawn as he started towards her, scowling. “I want to know why.”
Ky backed away from him, crossing her arms protectively over her abdomen. Her eyes flicked around the room, panicked, searching for any way that she could get out of Aleth’s war path. Her mouth was so dry.
Blood coursed through Ky’s skull and slammed into her temples, making her feel a bit light headed. The windows were all closed, and they were far too high off the ground for her to fare well if she tried leaping out of one of them. Aleth effectively blocked the only path to the door with his body.
“Sir, with all due respect, I think you must be mistaken—” Ky trailed off as her back bumped into the wall next to the bed. She started, a fresh wave of panic washing over her as she realized she was cornered.
Aleth leapt forward before Ky could correct her mistake.
He stood uncomfortably close – his body not quite coming in contact with hers, but near enough that she was trapped between him and the wall. The faint musky scent of his soap wafted over her, his sleeves almost touching her cheek as he stood with each of his hands planted against the wall on either side of her face.
“I know your secret, Ky.”
Ky’s eyes snapped to his face, panicked, before she could stop them. She met his harsh gaze for a moment, then forced herself to take a deep breath and focus her eyes on the wall that was opposite the one she was pressed against, behind his head. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“And I’m sure you do, if that guilty look has anything to say,” Aleth snapped, an edge in his voice. He reached out to grab her wrists. “Or is it that you have too many secrets to know which one I’m referring to?”
Ky hadn’t thought it was possible for her body to get any more tense than it already was, but somehow it managed to do just that. His fingers were icy cold on her wrists, breath warm against her neck as he spoke. She swallowed hard. “Sir?”
“Don’t ‘sir’ me, Ky, you know very well what I’m talking about,” he hissed. “And because I know your secret, I think it’s safe to tell you mine.”
Her eyes darted nervously back towards his gaze. She instantly shrank under his harsh gaze, averting her eyes once more, as she tugged on her wrists in a desperate attempt to pull away from him. “I don’t want to know your secret, sir.”
Nothing she’d ever said before in her life had been as true as that statement.
“Oh, but I want to share it with you.” His voice was dangerously cool, calm and soft, almost deceptively soothing if not for his iron grasp that clawed into her wrists. “And I know that you won’t tell anyone my secret, because you don’t want me telling anyone yours.”
Ky yanked on her arms once more. His fingernails dug even deeper into her flesh, making her wrists burn. She stopped struggling as he leaned even closer to her, chest hovering barely a hands-width away from her own. She pressed her body flat against the wall in a desperate attempt to distance herself.
“Do you know what my secret is, Ky?” Aleth whispered.
“I don’t even know what my supposed secret is, sir,” she answered. It was likely he’d figured out that she knew how to read, but surely that didn’t warrant this sort of treatment.
“My secret is more fun, Ky,” Aleth said dismissively. “Go ahead and ask me what it is.”
Ky wet her lips, sending one final gaze around the room in desperation. They were alone – so very, very alone. She swallowed hard. Her voice was breathy when she finally found it again. “What’s your secret, sir?”
“I like boys better than I like girls.” Aleth leaned forward until his lips brushed her ears as he whispered. “I’m in the mood to have fun, and I assumed my room has a bigger bed.”
Ky instinctively pulled away, only to slam her own head into the wall behind her.
Aleth’s body stayed close, and he lowered his head to kiss her neck. She did the best she could to stave him off with a half-shrug, his beard tickling her jaw. “About that…”
It was impossible to tell whether the thought of her scheme being exposed, or the thought of Aleth undressing her, was scarier. But together they were downright terrifying. She had to find a way to talk herself out of this mess.
Aleth was undeterred, moving to kiss her jawline.
“That’s not exactly the way that I, uh—” Ky twisted her face away, cringing. Her breathing was shallow, chest so tight it was hard to draw a breath at all. “I don’t think this is a good idea, sir.”
“Since when are stable boys supposed to think?” Aleth snarled, tightening his grasp around her wrists. He hesitated a moment, then released one of her wrists so he could reach up and stroke her face.
She cringed again, trying to duck away from him. “Please don’t!”
“I’ll do anything I very well please,” he snarled, stepping even closer to press his own body against hers. “So, I suggest you just quiet down and let me have my fun.”
“I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for,” she whimpered. She closed her eyes tightly, as if the entire nightmare would just go away if she couldn’t see it unfolding in front of her anymore. His hands were still trailing over her.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Aleth cooed. “I prefer to be the active participant anyway. I’m sure whatever you have will be adequate.”
He grabbed her shoulders and threw her onto the bed.
She thrust her hands out, palms-first, striking him on the chest as he dove on top of her. Aleth savagely grabbed her wrists and yanked them over her head, pinning them down with one of his hands.
“Just relax, Ky. Let yourself enjoy this,” he said, reaching down to un-do the button on her trousers. “Not many boys are so lucky.”
Ky writhed under him, trying her best to get free of his grasp, but it was iron-clad around her wrists. He moved his other hand swiftly, yanking her trousers and underpants down in a single motion.
His eyes trailed down to her exposed body, then his eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Now, isn’t that interesting?” he smirked, undoing his own belt buckle. “Not to worry, Ky, I can still work with this.”