Who Rules the King’s Heart

Artwork by Jecksy Candy

Who Rules the King’s Heart

By Shira Anthony

© 2015 Shira Anthony

Chapter One: The Demon Lover

Mikail straddled his lover and ran his fingers through dark hair smooth as the finest silk, then pulled hard on it to elicit a low moan. “I waited for you to come,” he whispered. “Why have you stayed away?”

“I come to you when I desire it.” Samael lifted his over his head, then smiled knowingly. No doubt he sensed Mikail’s arousal and his need. “I answer to no one, not even to the King.”

“And if the King were to order you to his bed?” Mikail fought the urge to scrape his fingernails over Samael’s smooth skin just to see how it might redden with his touch.  No.  He would not mar that perfect skin.  Not yet, at least.  He would appreciate the pale beauty of it first, taste each pink nipple in turn, then mark Samael as his own.

“What difference would it make if the King himself commanded me?” Samael’s eyes shone silver in the dim light of the fireplace as he laughed. “I told you—I do what I wish, when I wish. Does this trouble you, Mikail?”

“No,” lied Mikail Arieh, King of Shaeran. “There are others willing to share my bed, even if you are not.” That much, at least, was true.

“Indeed.” Samael traced his tongue in lazy circles around Mikail’s nipple, pulling on it with his teeth until it pebbled. “And yet none of them please you as I do, do they, your majesty?” Mikail’s answer was a muffled gasp as Samael pushed him back on the bed.  Their positions now reversed, Samael pulled Mikail’s silk robe open and took his cock deep into his mouth.

“God!” Mikail tried to stifle his shout, but with little success.

“You need this, don’t you, Mikail?” Samael released Mikail from his mouth and ran his fingers over on Mikail’s chest, then clasped his nipples and twisted them until Mikail could do nothing but grit his teeth and grab the sheets with hands. Samael laughed again, then claimed Mikail’s lips and thrust his tongue into Mikail’s mouth. “You want me, don’t you? More than the others?”

“Perhaps,” Mikail replied.  Another lie, of course, but what did it matter?

“I remind you of him.” Samael cupped Mikail’s sac in his hands and rolled it about, then traced a finger back to find Mikail’s entrance.  He did not press inside, but teased the opening until Mikail began to pant. “But you cannot possess him, can you? You fear what might happen if you were to let him know how you feel.”

“Fuck you.  You know nothing of what I want.” Mikail’s voice was rough to his own ears.  Damnable creature! Why did he allow Samael to master him? Where was his resolve?

“Oh, but I do know.  Let me show you, Mikail,” Samael taunted, taking Mikail’s erection in his hand and guiding it between his own tight buttocks. “Let me show you there is no one you desire more.”

Mikail cried out as he pressed into Samael’s tight heat. “You will not own me, demon,” he said as he thrust violently against Samael’s thighs. “You may try to possess me, but no one will own me.” He tightened his jaw as he inhaled the deep scent of desire—Samael seemed drenched in it—which just served to heighten Mikail’s hunger.

“But you are wrong.” Samael moved up and down in rhythm with Mikail’s lust, once more clasping Mikail’s nipples and pinching them to Mikail’s increasing moans. “You are already lost. You love him.”

“No.” The intensity of Mikail’s movements escalated with his anger to hear Samael’s words. “You’re mistaken.”

Samael licked his lips, then grabbed Mikail by the back of his neck, pulling his face forward so their eyes were only inches apart. “You want me,” he hissed as Mikail’s cries of release echoed around the chamber, “but it is he who owns your soul.”


Chapter Two: The High Mountains

Seven Years Before

They strung his arms above his head with his hands bound together so tightly his fingers were numb. His back was bare, his feet cold against the stone floor. Tiny trails of water ran down the sides of the prison walls, pooling in rough indentations on the floor at his feet. The prison was carved into hard rock of the low-lying hills that led to the no-man’s land between his homeland and the Koren Kingdom.

The enemy took Mikail prisoner in the mountains as he fought alongside his men defending the high ridge upon which the road to Shaeran ran to the south. His Division’s mission was to prevent the enemy from advancing any further toward the border.  He himself had led the small group of volunteer fighters taken from the ranks of his men. Five of his men had died there, the others escaping with their lives only because he had held back the Koren soldiers and risked capture. His heart was pained for the loss of such good men—men with whom he had fought for the better part of a year.

By his best reckoning, his Koren captors had held him prisoner in the ancient caves for more than two weeks.  His only solace was the friendship of the fellow soldier and subordinate with whom he shared the cold, stone cell. During those long weeks, he had been fortunate—his captors had not yet realized who he was. But now, in the dim light of the room in which they repeatedly tortured him for information about Shaeran battle strategy, Mikail guessed his time had finally run out. He had already resolved he would die here rather than tell them anything that would put his men or others at risk; he had understood the risks when he’d volunteered for the dangerous mission into the mountains. He’d made his peace with his fate.

“He told you he was a common soldier with the Fourth Division?” the Koren commander said with a sneer for the two low-ranking soldiers who had been tasked with Mikail’s interrogation. “And you believed him?” Middle aged, with coarse white hair and the strong features of many of the Koren, the commander had arrived minutes before.  He regarded Mikail with eyes hard and brimming with obvious hatred. A flicker of memory passed through Mikail’s mind, and he struggled to place the newcomer. He had seen this man before. But where?

“But Commander Ruch,” one of the men protested, “he wasn’t wearing the uniform of a—”

“You will both pay for your stupidity,” the commander interrupted, taking a whip from his belt and running the handle against his palm. The two men looked frightened and backed to the edge of the room. “Didn’t you think it strange that he wore no jacket?”

Mikail clenched his jaw. He had, indeed, shed his coat when they were about to be captured, preferring to perish in obscurity than supply the enemy with a trophy to exploit.

“This is no ordinary prisoner,” Ruch said triumphantly. “This is Captain Mikail Arieh of the Fourth Division. Son of the King himself.”

“The prince?” exclaimed one of the soldiers. “But I thought the prince was a general.”

“There is more than one prince of Shaeran.” Ruch laughed and faced Mikail with an expression of smug satisfaction.

Mikail swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry.  He was afraid, although he wouldn’t give Ruch the satisfaction of knowing it.  He’d been prepared to die.  They’d get nothing from him, no matter how they tortured him.

“Crown Prince Rayson is indeed a general. But there is another son.” Ruch took the handle of the whip and ran it from his chest to just underneath his chin, causing Mikail to shudder. “This one—” Ruch skimmed a rough finger over Mikail’s jaw and pursed his lips. “—is the King’s bastard mutt.”

Unable to contain himself any longer, Mikail spat on the Koren commander, who laughed and struck Mikail with the back of his hand. The force of the blow awakened Mikail’s exhausted mind, and he remembered where he had seen the man before. The peace talks, he thought, recalling the time five years before when his father insisted he accompany the Shaeran delegation to negotiate the treaty between the warring kingdoms. He sat with the King of Koren.

Mikail hadn’t wanted to attend the summit. He’d long eschewed the trappings of royalty, preferring to remain in the austere barracks of the guards with the other men who protected the city. For several years, his father had humored him. Mikail’s rapid rise through the ranks of the guards had been a result of his hard work and not because of his station.  In fact, few of his comrades knew of his royal blood. But after the death of the Queen, his father, knowing he would sire no more children, insisted his youngest son be properly schooled in the ways of a prince and potential successor to the throne. When war once again broke out between the enemy kingdoms, Mikail had jumped at the chance to return to the guards and join the troops defending Shaeran.

“You’ve grown from a whelp into a handsome dog,” Ruch hissed, circling Mikail and running his hand over the bare skin of Mikail’s back. “But a dog, nonetheless.”

Mikail said nothing, but held his head high.

“So… dog,” Ruch said with obvious glee, “shall we have a little chat about Shaeran’s plans? If you will share your knowledge with me, I will see to it that you and your men are treated well.”

“You lie, Commander,” said Mikail. “If I tell you what I know, we’ll only die sooner at your filthy hands.”

This time, Ruch drew his whip, and with a quick flick of his wrist, brought the leather down across Mikail’s back. Mikail bit his cheek to keep from crying out. He tasted the tang of his own blood on his tongue.

“Then your reward will be an easier death. Or perhaps, I’ll spare the life of your companion.” Ruch caressed the handle of the whip as one might caress a lover, lingering over its tip in an overtly crass manner.

“We’re both prepared to die,” Mikail said defiantly. “You will get nothing from me.”

The Koren commander raised the whip and cracked it once more over Mikail’s bare skin. Again and again, he whipped Mikail until silent tears of pain ran from the corners of Mikail’s eyes. Mikail prayed for unconsciousness as he felt blood run down his back.

“I had hoped this might be easier, dog.  Perhaps I’ve misjudged you.  Maybe it isn’t pain that will encourage your cooperation, but something a bit more direct.” He turned the whip around, skating the handle once more over Mikail’s bare skin. Mikail cringed with the contact. “Do you like the feel of it?” Ruch asked. “I’d be happy to give you more.”

“It matters little what you do to me,” Mikail said. “Just kill me and be done with it.  No doubt you’ll enjoy sending my head to my father.”

“Death?  How noble of you. But I have something far more interesting than death in mind.” He took the handle of the whip and shoved it into Mikail’s mouth, then motioned for the two soldiers to hold Mikail so he could not pull away. Mikail gagged and choked on the leather-covered wood.  The taste was foul.

“You like that, too?” Ruch removed the handle from Mikail’s mouth. With his free hand, Ruch unbuttoned the waist of Mikail’s trousers and pulled them down around Mikail’s ankles so he stood naked in the middle of the cell.

Mikail’s heart beat hard against his ribs as he fought against the two men holding him.  He twisted his body about and kicked at them until they secured his ankles with more rope. Ruch, no doubt having relished the struggle, now ran a hand over Mikail’s chest before working his way downward until he held Mikail’s manhood in his fist. To his horror and shame, Mikail’s cock hardened at the rough touch. “Koren filth,” Mikail snarled.

“And yet you respond to my ministrations, Prince Mikail. Like the dog you are, you crave satisfaction. Like your whore of a mother.” Ruch squeezed hard, and Mikail cried out in pain. “Spread his legs!”

Mikael felt the hard wood of the whip’s handle pressed between his buttocks and a stab of pain as Ruch forced it mercilessly inside of him. No, pleaseNot this. Please, not this….



Mikail felt a strong hand on his shoulder as he came back to himself. He shuddered and tensed with the touch, pulling away in fear.

“Thank goodness,” said the familiar voice. “I thought that this time they’d killed you for sure.”

Mikail forced a weak smile and leaned against the rough stone wall. “I’m fine, Nathaneel.” He blinked away the fog of unconsciousness, closed his eyes again for a moment, and inhaled a deep breath. He felt dizzy, weak. Sick. The memory of his torture at the hands of Ruch returned, and he retched.

“Please,” Nathaneel said, “have something to drink.” Nathaneel studied him with bright green eyes that sparkled with a touch of silver.  He handed Mikail a battered metal cup half-filled with water and offered Mikael a sympathetic smile.

“Thank you.” Mikail slowly drank the water. As much as he wished Nathaneel had not also been taken prisoner by the Koren, he was grateful he was not alone. He and Nathaneel had come up through the guards together, and when Mikail had been asked for men to volunteer for their last mission, Nathaneel had been the first.  Even now, his face dirtied, his long black hair tangled, and his lips bruised, Nathaneel was handsome.  Mikail had long admired the other-worldly quality of Nathaneel’s beauty and his sinewy body.  An expert swordsman, Nathaneel’s arms were corded with muscle and his shoulders broader from days spent training.  In spite of his strong attraction to Nathaneel, Mikail had never acted upon it.  He would never take advantage of his position as Nathaneel’s superior.

“How long have I been unconscious?” Mikail asked.

“Nearly a day,” Nathaneel replied.  He tensed his jaw. “Mikail… Captain… I fear you will not survive another beating. I’ve done the best I can to clean your wounds, but….”

“I said I’m fine.” Mikail hadn’t mean to respond harshly and he immediately regretted his tone.

Nathaneel frowned. “You’re hardly fine.” He appeared genuinely concerned.  He reached out to touch Mikail’s shoulder. “Let me look at your—”

Mikail slapped Nathaneel’s hand away. “I… I…,” Mikail stammered, taken aback by his powerful response to the touch, “I’m sorry. Please,” he said, looking away from Nathaneel, “you needn’t worry. I’m fine. Truly. I’m just… tired.”

“Of course,” Nathaneel replied.  Mikail heard the hurt in Nathaneel’s voice and knew he was the cause. “You must rest. But if there’s something I can—”

“Thank you.” Mikail struggled to regain his composure. “I will let you know if I need your assistance.”


Nathaneel watched Mikail sleep.  He heard the sound of footsteps approaching the cell. The guards were back, no doubt to torture Mikail once more.  I must get you out of this place, Mikail.

He waited behind the door as it opened and flung himself at one of the guards as the men entered. The guard shouted a warning to his companions, who threw Nathaneel to the ground by ground and kicked him repeatedly in the stomach. Mikail, roused from his sleep, lunged at the guard to stop him, but was easily outmaneuvered by the two other guards.  One of them grabbed Mikail by the arms and slapped him across the face.

“The Commander wants them alive, Urick,” the guard holding Mikail shouted to the man who was still kicking Nathaneel. “For now, at least.” The guard grunted and pushed Nathaneel over so he lay on his back, barely conscious. “Leave him. We’re taking this one with us.” The world faded as Nathaneel watched the men drag Mikail from the cell.


Nathaneel awoke to the sound of moaning, a heart-wrenching and plaintive sound that nearly broke his heart. For a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming, but the pain in his side convinced him otherwise. The cold cell came into focus, and he realized it was Mikail’s voice he had heard. Unable to stand, he crawled on his belly over to where Mikail lay, then pulled himself to his knees to better see. Mikail was naked, his body curled into a ball, his arms clutching his knees against his chest and his hair obscuring his face. Nathaneel pulled his jacket off and draped it over Mikail’s shoulders. He could survive the cold.  He doubt the same could be said for Mikail.

“Please,” Mikail whispered, “kill me.”

Kill you?” For the first time, Nathaneel noticed the blood that had run down Mikail’s thighs and congealed there. God! What have they done to you?

“I cannot take any more,” Mikail said. “Please,” he repeated, “you must kill me, before it’s too late.”

“I could never….” The suggestion horrified Nathaneel almost as much as the knowledge of hot the Koren had violated Mikail. “We can escape from this place. If I can only—”

“No,” moaned Mikail. “They know who I am. It’s only a matter of time before I… You must… I can’t endure it…”

Nathaneel picked Mikail’s broken body up from the cold floor and held him in his arms. HAt first e feared Mikail would shrink from his touch as he’d done before, but Mikail buried his head against Nathaneel’s chest.  Nathaneel could feel the shudders that wracked Mikail’s body.

How could they have done this to you?  Nathaneel’s anger grew with each passing moment. The feeling of hatred that rose within his chest was nearly overwhelming.

“Nathaneel,” Mikail whispered, “I will not die like a dog, without honor. You must end this—”

“Shhh.” Nathaniel gritted his teeth and struggled to fight the fury welling up inside him. “You will not die here. You’ve done nothing dishonorable.”

“You don’t know” Mikail’s voice broke.

“I do know,” Nathaneel insisted as he gently stroked Mikail’s matted hair. “I know the man you are. I know you would do nothing to bring dishonor to your country or your men. There is nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.”

He held Mikail against him until Mikail fell asleep.  I will see you safely out of this place, and I will kill whoever did this to you. I will see them suffer as they have made you suffer.


Through a thick haze of exhaustion and rage, Nathaneel heard distant screams and saw the prison walls painted crimson with blood. He ran down the passageway that led outside—he thought of nothing but the burning rage within his heart and his grief for the broken man he held in his arms.

They will pay for their cruelty. All of them.

He heard the shouts of the guards and their heavy footsteps on the hard stone floor, but their voices were quickly silenced amidst the chaos. A shrill cry rent the air, sending chills down his spine, and he ran faster still.

I will see you safe, Mikail. I will protect you with my life!


Mikail awoke on a thick bed of grass and leaves, covered in a soft blanket that looked as though it had been fashioned out of silk thread. He moaned and rolled onto his side, his eyes focusing at last on the entrance to a cave and the high mountains beyond. The pain in his back and between his legs had lessened. Pushing the memory to the back of his mind, he sat up, in spite of the pain.

“Nathaneel,” he said. “Nathaneel!”

“You need not be concerned. He is well,” came a gentle voice from behind him.

Mikail turned quickly around and into a pair of silver eyes. A man. No, something else. “Who… what are you?”

The man said something that sounded vaguely like, “Shey-ha-dim.” When Mikail did not respond, he added, “Your people call us ‘Shedim’. The demon creatures. I am Seeraz.”

“Mountain people?” Mikail said. Seeraz nodded. Taller than a human, his body leaner, catlike, with well-defined muscles, Seeraz peered at him with silver eyes.  His beautiful face was framed with hair that trailed down his back in obsidian waves. Despite the cool mountain air, Seeraz was completely naked. Mikail couldn’t help but stare; he had never seen such an enticing creature.

“But how did I get here?”

“The other brought you,” Seeraz replied. “He begged us for help. There were some of our people who wanted to kill you both, but enough agreed to help you. You will not be harmed.”

He brought me? You mean Nathaneel?”

“Yes.” Seeraz appeared to study Mikail carefully, as though he were looking for the answer to some unspoken question.

“Where is he?” Mikail demanded, concerned for Nathaneel’s welfare.  If they’d wanted to kill them before, he’d not take the word of this strange creature alone. “I want to see him.”

Seeraz’s feline smile emphasized his high cheekbones and deep-set eyes. “You are his…” He said something that sounded like “Sree-leyt,” then added in Mikail’s own language, “Chosen one?”

“Chosen one?” repeated Mikail. Then, realizing what Seeraz meant, he said defensively, “No, of course not. I am his commanding officer.”

“I see.” There was no judgment in Seeraz’s expression, only a patient and peaceful radiance that did nothing to reassure Mikael.

“Take me to him,” Mikail demanded.

“You are not yet well enough to move. We did our best to treat your wounds, but they were severe. I will bring him to you.”

“I… thank you,” Mikail said.  They’d care for him and he’d been quite rude.  “I’m sorry. I did not mean to insult you. It’s just that I….”

“You care deeply for him,” Seeraz finished when Mikail could not.  “Your wounds were not Sree-leyt, were they?”

Mikail’s face grew hot under the creature’s gaze as he realized Sree-leyt meant not only “chosen one,” but “love” and “lover.” He swallowed hard and said simply, “No.”

“You humans are quite cruel. To use Sree-leyt in such a manner is unthinkable.”

Mikail did not immediately respond.  He felt the sting of vulnerability and shame as he once again recalled what Ruch had done to him. He inhaled a long, slow breath in an attempt to master these feelings, knowing that he must or he would crumble under the weight of his pain. “Nathaneel must not know of it,” Mikail replied at last, his lips tight, his voice a whisper.

“But he already does know, Mee-kayhl,” the Shedim answered. The words were spoken with kindness. “He was so enraged at what was done to you that he attacked one of our own when they met on the trail.”

“He… he attacked one of your people?” Mikail was shocked. Nathaneel was a good soldier and such blind anger was uncharacteristic for him. Then again, the anguish Nathaneel must have experienced, facing certain death, watching his friend and commanding officer violated, humiliated, must have been difficult to bear.

Seeraz laughed, the sound musical, otherworldly. “He did no harm. And you needn’t worry about him. He is strong of spirit. I’m told he killed most of the humans who held you captive.”

“He killed them? But there were dozens of them. How…?” Mikail tried to imagine how Nathaneel had overcome so many of the enemy. They had tried many times to escape, and each time both he and Nathaneel had been soundly defeated.

“You may ask him” was Seeraz’s reply. “For now, though you must rest. I will return with your Nat-an-nyl.”

Mikail nodded and lay back on the bed. He knew Seeraz was right—his body had not yet completely healed. They were safe for now, at least. They would rejoin the battle when they were stronger. And perhaps in time he would come to understand what had transpired in the caves.

And perhaps, he thought as he allowed sleep to claim him once more, if the Shedim are as strong as he says, they can help us in our fight against the Koren. He resolved to learn more about the mountain people.


“Mikail?” Mikail opened his eyes to find Nathaneel kneeling over him. Nathaneel’s face was pale and he looked exhausted, but his smile appeared genuine. “Thank goodness you’re all right.” Mikail sat up with some difficulty and Nathaneel steadied him. The feel of Nathaneel’s hand on his arm was warm, comforting.

“Seeraz told me it was you who overpowered the guards,” Mikail said, eager to learn more despite his weakened condition. “But how did you manage it?”

“I honestly don’t remember,” Nathaneel admitted, appearing a bit uncomfortable with the question “All I recall is that I was in the cell with you one moment, and the next moment we were here. The Shedim say I killed most of the Koren guards,” he added, “but that’s impossible. I had no weapon when they found me.”

“Don’t trouble yourself with it.” Mikail sensed Nathaneel’s distress.  Whatever had happened, he could learn the truth later. “It’s unimportant.” It was a lie—the first of many that Mikail would tell to Nathaneel. “Any news of the war?” he added, making a concerted effort to change the subject.

“I’ve heard very little. This enclave is surrounded by powerful spells—humans may not enter without permission. No doubt this is why the Shedim have remained hidden from us for so long.”

Even in his weakened state, Mikail understood the implications of Nathaneel’s words. They’d both been raised with stories of the demonfolk who inhabited the mountains.  If the Shedim were powerful enough to hide an entire civilization, what more were they capable of? How, then, had Nathaneel managed to attract the attention of the Shedim? Would the Shedim release them, knowing what they did now?

“You needn’t worry.” Nathaneel appeared to correctly guess Mikhail’s concern. “If they were unwilling to let us leave, they’d have killed us. I’m told they nearly did.”

“Then I have you to thank for arguing on our behalf.” Mikail offered Nathaneel a smile he hoped would convey his deep gratitude.

“I did nothing.” Nathaneel shook his head. “I didn’t even hear of it until afterward.”

Mikail schooled his features and hoped Nathaneel had not seen his surprise to here this. None of it made sense: their escape from the caves or the warm welcome they’d received from the Shedim.

“Are you in pain, Mikail?” Nathaneel asked. “After what those bastards did—”

“We will not speak of it again.” Mikail had not expected Nathaneel to speak of what had been done to him in the caves. He immediately regretted his harsh tone.  “You worry far too much for my well-being, Lieutenant.

“Of course, Captain,” Nathaneel answered.

Mikail thought he saw a mixture of hurt and concern in Nathaneel’s eyes.  He regretted having to remind Nathaneel of his rank, but he would not discuss the topic further.  All that mattered was that they were alive.  No one need learn the details of their captivity, let alone what the Koren had done to him.

“We will leave in the morning,” Mikail said, once more steering the conversation to his advantage. Nathaneel opened his mouth to speak, but Mikail stopped him, saying only, “That is an order, Lieutenant.”


Nathaneel dreamed he was running through the forest with the wind in his face. As he ran, he became aware that he was no longer alone. Pausing momentarily to look around him, he saw his companions were all dark-haired and silver-eyed—Shedim, naked, drenched in the light of the moon through the tree branches. He tried to call to them, to ask them why they ran alongside him, but the voice that issued from his lips was not human, it rose on the wind like the cries of a wild animal on the hunt.

“Beautiful one,” he heard one of them say in a tongue that was not human, “release your soul to the nighttime. Come with us to the place of bonding, where you may experience the joy of kinship.”

He understood what had been said and he rejoiced.  He ran faster still, following them to a clearing in the woods carpeted in warm grass. It was then that he realized that he, too, was naked.  He felt no shame in this. Instead, his eyes met those of a young male, and he felt the primal call within his flesh. He reached for the male Shedim as another male embraced him from behind, licking his back and causing him to gasp with pleasureThe first Shedim clasped his hand and captured his mouth, and Nathaneel tasted the creature’s sweet breath as their tongues entwined.

He felt the second male reach between his legs and eagerly explore the sensitive skin there. He grew hard with desire as he continued to kiss the first Shedim. Gently, Nathaneel pushed him onto the grass, taking his hands and running them over his chest, pausing to taste the puckered flesh of his nipples. The Shedim sighed and lifted his legs legs, working himself open and willing Nathaneel to enter the tight ring of muscle there. He did not resist, but pressed inside and claimed his prize as the second male growled appreciatively, all the while caressing his back and his buttocks as he plunged into the tight passage.

Nathaneel felt pressure between his nether cheeks as the second male inserted a long finger there. The pleasure of this act made him shout, and as his shouts echoed in the clearing, he realized the three of them were surrounded by many Shedim—male and female—all engaged in similar passion.

“More,” he begged. The second Shedim pressed two, then three fingers within his body. Nathaneel keened with the delicious pain, but did not pause his thrusting. The male beneath him laughed, his sweet voice mingling with the others’ cries. The second Shedim put his free hand to Nathaneel’s cheek and Nathaneel turned to meet his eyes. “Yes,” Nathaneel said in the same, strange tongue.

He felt the male withdraw his fingers, and after a moment’s pause felt him press his hard length where his fingers had once been. Nathaneel cried out once more, feeling the warmth of the creature beneath him, and the hard need of the male above him. They moved as one, the cool breeze like delicate fingers caressing their bodies, bathed in a silver haze of sweat and lust.

“Oh, yes,” cried Nathaneel. “Yes, yes!”

And as they three called out in unison, their bodies surrendered to pleasure, shaking and shuddering as, one after the other, their release was offered up to the night.

“Child of man,” Nathaneel heard a voice whisper in his ear as he lay spent upon the ground, “always remember what is in your heart.”


Chapter Three: Samael

Nathaneel awoke in a bed on the cave floor. He stretched his arms over his head, then sat up and breathed in the fresh morning air. There was a hint of pine on the breeze, the crisp scent of water from a nearby stream, and the sweet fragrance of mountain flowers. After so many weeks spent in the damp prison caves, it was as if his heart had been revived from near death. He saw the world as he’d never seen it before—as though his senses had at last awakened from a deep slumber to experience the world anew.

His head ached in spite of this newfound clarity of thought and sensation.  The muscles in his legs and arms felt tight from exertion.  He remembered the vivid dream and the feel of the two Shedim pressed against his body, as well as his overwhelming lust.  He shivered, at once breathless to remember it and ill at ease that the mere memory now physically aroused him. He glanced over at Mikail, thankful that he was still asleep.

You’re tired.  Seeing Mikail tortured like that, begging for you to end his life…it’s understandable that your mind might wander to more pleasant things.

He stood and silently pulled on his tattered uniform shirt, fastening the few buttons that remained on it. He was a soldier. He would not be distracted from the mission at hand: to return his commanding officer safely to Shaeran.

He heard soft footfalls at the entrance of the cave and turned to see Seeraz holding a smooth piece of wood with piles of berries and other food on it. Seeraz smiled.  Nathaneel imagined Seeraz heard his thoughts, and that his silver eyes could reach inside his mind.  Nathaneel wondered if Seeraz knew what he had dreamed.

Impossible. Your thoughts are your own.

“You plan to leave today.” Seeraz kneeled and set the food on the floor by Nathaneel’s bed.  His expression was wistful, almost sad.

“Yes,” Nathaneel replied. “Much as I appreciate what you’ve done for him—for both of us—my duty is to see Mikail safely home.”

“We cannot convince you to stay, Nat-an-nyl?

Nathaneel sought to avoid Seeraz’s intense gaze.  Why did he feel so ill at ease around these creatures?  “No. But you’ve been very kind to us. Thank you.”

Seeraz motioned to the food and smiled.  “Eat, beautiful one.”

Nathaneel took a handful of the berries and began to chew.  He was far hungrier than he’d realized and the berries were fragrant and sweet.  “Thank you,” he said as he reached for more without hesitation.

“What do you see in him?” Seeraz picked one the berries up in his longer fingers and rolled it about like a child might, then popped it into his mouth.

At first Nathaneel did not understand Seeraz’s question. He realized he must have betrayed his confusion, because Seeraz smiled and inclined his head toward Mikail.

“Your Mee-kayhl.  You care for him.”

“He’s a good man and a fine superior,” Nathaneel said.

Seeraz appeared confused by Nathaneel’s response, but he said only, “You must see that he eats something, your sup-eeh-reyr. He is in pain. He must heal.”

“His wounds are better, thanks to your people.” Nathaneel offered Seeraz a tentative smile, unsure of what else to say.

“I do not speak of the wounds we cared for,” Seeraz replied.

“I don’t know what you mean.”  Of course it was a lie, but Nathaneel could hardly speak of such a thing to a stranger, let alone a creature whose motives he still wasn’t sure he could trust.

“Humans are strange creatures,” Seeraz said with a shake of his head. “You know of what I speak—of the terrible things done to him—and yet you do not comfort him.”

Nathaneel took a deep breath and glanced at Mikail to be sure he was still asleep before speaking again. “He is a proud man.  If he chooses to talk about it, I’ll gladly listen.  But I will not betray his trust.”

“He believes this was his—” Seeraz hesitated as if searching for the correct word. “—fault?”

“I don’t know,” Nathaneel answered. “Perhaps.” This thought disturbed Nathaneel.  Nothing that had happened in the caves had been Mikail’s fault.

“Perhaps you can help him then, Nat-an-nyl.” Seeraz smiled at him, his silver eyes warm and encouraging. “You can use your gifts to show him how to heal.”

“I have no gifts to heal such a wound.” More than anything, Nathaneel wished he could relieve Mikail’s deep pain.

“You underestimate your worth, beautiful one.” Seeraz reached out and took Nathaneel’s face in his hands. Nathaneel felt dizzy with the touch, as if Seeraz stirred something deep within his soul. Then, without warning, Seeraz stood up and walked out of the cave.


Three Years Later


Mikail looked up from his desk with a broad smile for his newly-commissioned captain of the royal guards. “Nathaneel,” he said, “come in.  Please close the door behind you.” He couldn’t help but notice how the deep green of Nathaneel’s uniform brought out the color of his eyes. As he had many times over the three years since they had returned from the front, Mikail felt the familiar pain of longing in his heart.

Mikail pushed away this thought and stood to clasp Nathaneel’s arm warmly. “I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that you accepted the promotion.”

“It’s a great honor, majesty.” Nathaneel nodded as he spoke the words. “I only hope I will be worthy of your trust in me.”

“If I had my way,” Mikail replied with a chuckle, “it would be you seated behind this desk in my stead. You are more than worthy.” He spoke the truth; he still believed himself undeserving of his position.  He had never wanted to be king.

“And you’ve been working much too hard, your majesty.”

No doubt Nathaneel had noticed the dark circles that ringed his eyes and the pallor of his skin.  He’d seen them too, he’d just chosen to ignore them.  How many months had it been since he’d been able to ride outside the castle walls or swim in the warm waters of the Shaeran Sea?  He’d barely found time to train his sword arm, let alone enjoy the warm evening air. “Please, Nathaneel, behind closed doors, we have no need for such formality between us.  Please call me Mikail.”

“You’ve been working much too hard, Mikail,” Nathaneel repeated with a sly grin.

“Now that the treaty with the Koren has been signed,” Mikail said, hoping to reassure Nathaneel, “things should settle down a bit. Still, I worry about the far-flung territories. I fear I will never be able to fill my father’s shoes. What kind of a king will I be, I wonder?”

“I’ve no doubt you will surpass your father.” Nathaneel offered Mikail a kind smile. “But even your father didn’t do everything himself. Have you spoken to Advisor Shura about giving you counsel?”

“I have.” Mikail sighed. “But he’s an old man. He wishes to live out the rest of his days surrounded by his grandchildren. He gave up so much to be at my father’s side.” Mikail walked over to the window and gazed over the city below. “No,” he said, with determination, “I must find a new advisor. But it will take time.  Until then….” He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Perhaps it’s not my place to say it,” Nathaneel said as he walked over to Mikail, “but the affections of a beautiful woman might bring you some comfort.”

“I see your promotion has given you the courage to speak your mind.” Mikail laughed and clapped Nathaneel on the back before adding, “And I hope it will always be that way. I value your good counsel.”

“Then you will consider my suggestion?” Nathaneel relaxed visibly with Mikail’s words.

“I will consider it.” Mikail had no intention of admitting that he had taken comfort—and quite regularly—with courtiers both male and female. No doubt Nathaneel, with his quarters housed outside the main castle building, was unaware of the rumors at court.

“I’m glad.” Nathaneel’s smile was brilliant.

“Will you join me for dinner tonight?” Mikail asked, eager to change the subject. It was difficult to see Nathaneel smile like that and not imagine what it might be like to taste his lips.  I am tired, that I can’t think of anything but him.  “I’m afraid it won’t be much—I have too much work to dine formally, but I’d appreciate your company here.”

“Of course,” Nathaneel answered with a warm smile, “but only if you’ll allow me to assist you in Shura’s stead.”

“Just having someone to listen would be helpful. I value your opinion.”

“It would be my pleasure.” Nathaneel bowed formally and headed toward the door. He paused for a moment, then turned around and grinned, “But promise me you will consider my suggestion.”

Mikail laughed. “I will.”


Night had long since fallen when Mikail called for Nathaneel to join him in his study. His servants had set a substantial meal on a side table. Halfway through a rather lengthy letter of complaint from the governor of one of Shaeran’s provinces, Mikail did not look up when he heard the knock on his door. “Come,” he said as he continued to read.

Nathaneel took a seat without asking for leave to do so.

“I’ll be finished with this in just a moment.” Mikail frowned to realize that, for all its praise and promises of support for the new king, the letter was merely an impassioned plea for more troops and supplies. Mikail laughed and shook his head. “You’d think they’d realize I’m impervious to flowery language and flattery. All they need to do is ask, and I’ll send them whatever they need.”

Nathaneel said nothing, but stood up and casually leaned over the desk. Surprised, Mikail looked up from the letter.  Instead of the deep green eyes that so often haunted Mikail’s dreams, Nathaneel gazed back at him with bright silver orbs. His expression, too, was not one Mikail had ever seen Nathaneel wear—it was dark and intense. His cheekbones seemed slightly higher, his face longer, his frame leaner.  He reminded Mikail of someone.  Something not quite human.  The Shedim, Seeraz.  But not Seeraz.

“You’re not Nathaneel, are you?”  A strange question indeed, for as sure as Mikail was that this creature wasn’t Nathaneel, he was equally sure this was Nathaneel.

The newcomer offered Mikail a sly grin and his silver eyes flashed with mischief.  “No.”

Mikail leaned back in his chair and attempted to gather his thoughts.  In the years since he and Nathaneel had encountered the Shedim, Mikail had come to suspect this creature existed. So much of their escape from the mountain prison had been unexplained: Nathaneel overpowering the guards, the Shedim taking them in after nearly killing them.

“But Nathaneel is still within you, isn’t he?” Mikail asked.

The creature laughed a deep, musical laugh that once again reminded Mikail of Seeraz and the other Shedim. “Perhaps,” he replied, “although he does not know about me.” His tone was arrogant and brash, his demeanor both predatory and sexual.

“Then you know his thoughts and also possess his memories?”

“Yes.” The creature leaned further over the desk and licked his lips. This aggressive sexual stance left Mikail both aroused and disturbed.  “Do I frighten you, Mikail?”

“No.”  Not exactly the truth, but still not a lie.

The creature laughed again, clearly believing otherwise.

“What should I call you?” Mikail asked, hoping to quell the thrum of his own lust by focusing on something other than the enticing musk that emanated from the Shedim.

“I can think of many things you might call me, but my name is Samael.”  Samael reached across the desk and traced a slender finger over the edge of Mikail’s jaw.

Mikael gasped in response.  The touch was electric.  Magical.  “Samael,” Mikail repeated, his voice sounding distant to his ears.

Samael walked around the desk until he stood behind the chair in which Mikail sat. He leaned over Mikail’s shoulder and whispered in Mikail’s ear, “He wants a position on the Council.”

“He?” Mikail responded, confused.  He thought only of Samael’s touch and how much he desired Samael.

Samael pointed to the letter Mikail had been reading when he’d first come in.  Mikail had forgotten all about it. “Lord Lurent, the Governor of Talaska Province. He wishes a seat on the Council.”

Mikail frowned and tried to mask his surprise. “How do you know this?”

Samael’s laughter was as bright and shimmering as the silver of his eyes.  “Here,” he said, pointing to a sentence on the page, “and here,” he added, pointing to another.  “He speaks of the rule of law and how he admires the manner in which you’ve governed in your father’s stead.”

“Even if this is true, what would you have me do about it?”  Samael was too close.  Mikail struggled to focus on the conversation instead of Samael’s face, which was now only inches from his own.

Samael straightened up and walked over to the fireplace, studying the flames for a moment. “I would watch him carefully, Mikail.  He is not to be trusted. He seeks to depose you.”

“What evidence do you have of this?” Mikail demanded.

“Your sweet captain received word today of unrest in Talaska.” Samael glanced over his shoulder and pursed his lips.  “The Lieutenant-Governor has been killed in a clash with rebels.”


“You catch my drift.” Samael held a hand out to the fire.  From where Mikail sat, Samael’s face seemed to contort with the light reflected from the flames. “There are no rebels in that area of the country.  At least none we are aware of.  Lurent is behind this.”

How little I know about my own kingdom! He’d thought Lurent an ally, and yet if Samael was correct….“What do you suggest?”  Mikail asked aloud.

“Kill him before he makes an attempt on your life.” Samael’s voice was low and throaty.

Kill him? Without provocation?”  Mikail couldn’t escape the feeling that Samael relished the thought of spilling blood.

“He has committed treason against the government of Shaeran.” Samael spun around and glared at Mikail with a challenge in his eyes. “Of course, the other one—” Samael stressed the word “other” so that Mikail knew he was speaking of Nathaneel. “—would advise patience and restraint. In the end, though, he would reach the same conclusion as I. It would simply take him longer to admit the truth.”

Mikail remained silent. Samael was so surprisingly different from Nathaneel, so cunning, that Mikail found himself thinking of them as two entirely separate individuals. This strange creature was without a doubt an asset to the kingdom. And yet was it wrong to consider what Samael could offer without considering Nathaneel’s welfare as well?

“You’re trying to decide whether to tell the other one about my existence.” Samael studied Mikail with obvious amusement. “I don’t care if you do,” Samael continued. “He might even believe you. But what good can come of it?”

“I owe him my life.” Mikail knew he sounded more defensive than he’d intended. For years he’d guessed at Nathaneel’s true heritage, and yet he’d never spoken of it to Nathaneel. Now, faced with the undeniable truth of Samael’s existence, he questioned his choice to keep his silence.

“No doubt you do owe him that.  I was there, in the caves.  I was born there.”  The edges of Samael’s mouth turned upward in something approximating a grin. “But does he know of your feelings for him?”

Mikail felt suddenly cold.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

Samael sauntered over to Mikail and leaned over the desk, his lips so close to Mikail’s ear that Mikail felt his warm breath on his skin. “Of course you do, Mikail.” Mikail shivered and fought the urge to move away. “You’ve wanted him for years, and yet you keep your distance. Why is that, I wonder?”

Mikail had no doubt that Samael knew Mikail believed himself unworthy of Nathaneel. “What do you want from me?” he demanded, sure that Samael would use the situation to his advantage.

“Nothing in particular. Despite what you believe, he and I share a common soul. I could no more harm you than he could. But I am not him. He does not understand your true feelings.” He ran his hand through Mikail’s hair, then bent down to trace his lips over Mikail’s neck until the Mikail shuddered in spite of himself.

“I—” Mikail’s words were cut short by the feel of Samael’s mouth as he bit and sucked at his Mikail’s earlobe.  “God!”

“He need never know,” Samael whispered.

Mikail closed his eyes, knowing he was powerless to resist and hating himself for it. He’d dreamed of this for too long; his long repressed need was almost more than he could bear. He wanted this man—this creature.  We wanted to possess him in every sense of the word even though he knew it was wrong. This was not Nathaneel….

Samael sat on the edge of the desk and slowly unbuttoned his shirt to reveal skin the color of the moon and nipples the color of the palest roses that grew in the palace gardens.  There was no hair on Samael’s chest, only the silky smoothness of skin that begged to be touched.

“I’ve studied you over the years, Mikail,” he said as he slipped out of the starched white fabric and let it flutter to the ground for effect. He moved between the desk and Mikail’s chair now, his eyes never straying from Mikail’s. “I’ve seen your desire for him grow. You cannot deny yourself any longer.  You mustn’t.”

“You say you share Nathaneel’s soul, yet you are nothing like him.”  Your differences both fascinate and repel me.

“How would you know?” Samael reached for Mikail’s silk tunic, pulled it over his head, and tossed it onto the floor. Then he slowly ran a long finger from the waist of Mikail’s trousers to the slight indentation at the base of Mikail’s neck, finally taking Mikail’s chin in his hand. For the longest moment, he stood with his lips inches away from Mikail’s, prolonging Mikail’s agony, tempting him and deriving obvious pleasure out of his discomfort. “You’ve kept him at arm’s length for as long as you’ve known him.  Why not find out what you’ve waited to discover?”

Samael brushed Mikail’s lips with his own but did not kiss him.  Mikail knew Samael wanted him to claim the kiss he so desperately desired, but Mikail resisted, not wanting to cede any power to Samael.  This silent battle of wills only served to intensify Mikail’s longing. Samael laughed, then pulled away, leaving Mikail’s lips untouched. He got to his knees and parted Mikail’s legs, then rubbed his hand over Mikail’s hard response. Mikail moaned as Samael unbuttoned the waist of his trousers and slid his fingers underneath, grasping Mikail’s erection and squeezing until Mikail closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

“What are the others like?” Samael asked in a voice rough with passion. “Do they make your heart pound madly in your chest? Do their lips tempt you? Do their mouths make you cry out for more?”

“Others?” Mikail struggled to maintain some semblance of sanity as Samael rubbed his thumb over his cockhead and masterfully pushed back the foreskin to find the sensitive flesh beneath.

Samael’s laughter was harsh and unforgiving. “Do you think I’m oblivious as to how you spend your nights?”

“But Nathaneel—”

“Is too blind to see what’s right in front of him. I’ve seen the looks on the faces of the women you bed,” he added, releasing Mikail’s cock and tracing slippery fingers back to find the tight opening between his buttocks.  Mikail released a stuttered breath in response. “They all hope you will marry them. And the men”—he paused to make his point—“dream of sharing your bed for more than just a few nights.”

“I have never tasted a demon’s lips.” Mikail hissed as Samael circled his opening and rolled his sac in his palm. “I have nothing to compare—”

At last, Samael offered the kiss he’d denied Mikail only moments before. His tongue aggressively sought Mikail’s, tracing the line of Mikail’s teeth and then pressing inward until he found his prize.  Samael’s tongue was longer than a human’s, snakelike and slightly rough.  Samael tasted of the mountains, snow, and desire.  When Samael finally released Mikail’s captive mouth, Mikail struggled to breathe.

“A demon’s kiss indeed,” Samael said in an undertone that seemed to rumble through Mikail’s body.  “And yet he’s the one you imagine when you kiss me.”

“No.”  Mikail tried to pull away, but Samael kissed him once again and Mikail knew he couldn’t deny that along with his shame, his lust burned hotter.

“You’re a terrible liar, majesty.”  Samael released Mikail’s cock.  It was painfully hard now—Mikail could think of nothing but taking Samael and fucking him until he could no longer speak.

Samael, both hands now free once more, tugged at Mikail’s trousers and pulled them down so that Mikail was naked.  He looked up at Mikail, then unrolled his long tongue to taste Mikail’s inner thigh.  He glided his tongue along Mikail’s skin until he found Mikail’s hard member, then licked around the crown as Mikail watched.  Samael grabbed Mikail’s buttocks and dug his long fingernails into the flesh there as he took Mikail into his mouth, the combination of sensation causing Mikail to cry out in pain and pleasure. Samael uttered a low, guttural cry in response, then went back to sucking with renewed zeal, bringing Mikail to the edge of release but not allowing him what he craved.  When Samael ceased his ministrations, Mikail fought the urge to demand more.

“Tell me you want me.” Samael stood and unbuttoned his own trousers as he gazed at Mikail with silver eyes ablaze.

God, but Samael was beautiful!  The long black hair Nathaneel wore tied with a leather strap at the back of his neck now hung loose, cascading over Samael’s shoulders in waves of molten obsidian.  His silver eyes seemed to glow, and his full lips were pink from having kissed Mikail.  Samael’s body was lean and sculpted, his long cock thick and jutting. A single drop of fluid at the tip caught Mikail’s eye, and his mouth watered at the prospect of licking it off.

“Tell me you want me,” Samael repeated, clearly aware of Mikail’s eyes upon him.

“I won’t give you the satisfaction.” Mikail turned Samael and roughly pushed him face forward onto the desk.  The firelight seemed to set Samael’s body aglow, and Mikail found he could not control his lust. Samael licked his fingers eagerly and wet his entrance.  Mikail watched, spellbound, as Samael thrust several fingers inside and opened himself.

“Tell me you want me. Fuck me and tell me you want me.”

“You won’t hear me say it.”  Mikail trailed his fingers over the smooth skin of Samael’s back as Samael continued to work himself open.

Samael laughed.  “Then fuck me.  I’ll make you say it.”

Mikail gritted his teeth and grabbed Samael by the hips, plunging into him an instant after Samael removed his fingers.  Samael’s cry of pleasure was primal, and he spoke words Mikail did not understand.  The language of the Shedim, no doubt.

Beads of sweat blossomed on Mikail’s brow as he began to move, thrusting deep inside Samael, his mind focused on nothing but the extraordinary pleasure the act provided him. He was no longer a king—he was a man who hungered for release. Samael, resplendent in the firelight, looked like the most beautiful of animals, his muscles tensed like a lion stalking its prey.

“You shall not hear me say it.” Mikail thrust again, deeper than before, impaling Samael.  With each movement, Samael moved back to meet Mikail so that their bodies moved in unison. Samael, his chest still pressed against the wood of the table, reached behind him for Mikail’s thighs and dug his fingernails into Mikail’s flesh.  Mikail, no longer able to hold back, convulsed and moaned as he climaxed.  Samael too came, shouting his own release as he shuddered and spilled onto the table.

“But I will hear you say it,” Samael whispered as Mikail breathed heavily against his back.  “I will know your need.”


Chapter Four: Nightmares

As the first light of morning lit the study, Mikail awoke on the couch by the fireplace clothed only in his trousers. His study was strewn with papers, what remained of the dinner now just crumbs. The fire had nearly extinguished itself, the servants who would have tended it waited patiently outside the locked office door.  Samael, who had been asleep curled on the rug in front of the fire like a cat, stretched his long arms to the ceiling and glanced at Mikail. He licked his lips and walked over, then traced a lithe finger over the muscles of Mikail’s chest.

It wasn’t a dream. Mikail had expected to have woken up, slumped over his desk as he often did.  He said nothing as his eyes met Samael’s. Samael smirked, then ran his tongue over Mikail’s chest and allowed his long, dark hair to fall against Mikail’s skin. Mikail shivered with the delicate touch. A moment later Samael unbuttoned Mikail’s trousers once more, freed Mikail’s cock from the confines of the fabric, and took it deep into his mouth.

Samael’s mouth felt hot, the ministrations of his tongue, lips, and teeth sinful.  Mikail moaned as Samael pulled and sucked relentlessly until he could hold back no more. He came with a stifled cry, spilling into Samael’s mouth far faster than he’d intended.  Samael drank from Mikail as if it were his last drink, lifting his head only when he had swallowed every precious drop. Mikail fought to catch his breath, fought to keep himself from touching Samael even though he wanted to explore Samael’s body once again.

Samael offered Mikail a knowing smile, then licked his lips and lingered within Mikail’s reach as if in silent challenge. When Mikail did not move to touch him, Samael silently picked up his trousers and pulled them on, slipped into his shirt, and buttoned it halfway. With a backward glance at Mikail, he walked over to the window and opened it to the crimson morning sky.

“We shall see each other again soon,” he said as he stepped onto the sill.  “Very soon, I think.”

Realizing Samael intended to leap the five stories to the gardens below, Mikail ran to window to stop him.  Too late, Samael jumped as Mikail watched in horror.  Mikail needn’t have feared for Samael, who landed unharmed on the soft grass. Mikail guessed the Shedim possessed far greater strength than humans, but to see Samael’s powerful grace was astounding. He couldn’t help think, as he had three years before, that the Shedim would make powerful allies. He resolved to bring up the issue with Samael should the opportunity present itself.


When Nathaneel arrived at Mikail’s office the next morning, Mikail was deep in discussion with Rika Shura, Mikail’s most trusted advisor. Mikail’s heart beat hard against his ribs as he waved Nathaneel inside and struggled to maintain his composure.  Would Nathaneel remember the night before, or had Samael spoken the truth, that Nathaneel knew nothing of his alter-ego’s existence?

Nathaneel bowed deeply. “Your majesty. Lord Shura.”  There was nothing discernible in Nathaneel’s expression.  Nothing to give Mikail pause.

Thank God!

Shura nodded in greeting and Nathaneel waited in silence while the two men finished.

“Thank you, Rika,” Mikail said after he’d set his seal on one of the documents Shura had brought with him and handed it over. “And thank you again.  I promise I won’t take undue advantage of your generous offer of assistance.”

“It’s my pleasure to serve you,” the old man replied with a wry smile, “but I will still hold you to your word.” Shura bowed, then turned and left the room, closing the door after himself.

Looking up at Nathaneel, Mikail sighed with relief and said, “Lord Shura has agreed to advise me on matters of state.”

Nathaneel raised an eyebrow in response. “He has? I thought he intended to withdraw from the court.”

“This is just temporary, until I can find another advisor.” The thought of losing Shura’s counsel only served to intensify Mikail’s discomfort at seeing Nathaneel. Mikail despised his own insecurities—the last thing he needed were more complications in his already complicated existence.

“I am glad to hear it,” Nathaneel replied. “I’m sure you will find someone worthy.”

“If only it were that simple.”  Mikail offered Nathaneel a smile, then pretended to organize some of the papers scattered over his desk.  “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” he asked in a voice he hoped sounded casual.

Nathaneel handed Mikail the letter.  “The messenger who brought this said I should give it to you in haste.”

“Indeed.” Mikail broke the seal on the letter rather than meet Nathaneel’s gaze.  “Thank you.”

“If I may say so, majesty, you look well,” Nathaneel said. “I was pleased to hear you slept late this morning. Am I to understand you took my advice?”

“Yes.” This too Mikail spoke offhandedly, although the admission was anything but.  For a moment, he wondered if Nathaneel had remembered all that had transpired the night before.  But when he glanced up, he saw nothing in Nathaneel’s demeanor had changed.

“I’m glad,” Nathaneel said as Mikail scanned the contents of the letter.

Relieved to have something to distract him from Nathaneel, Mikail read the letter with increasing concern. “It’s true then,” he said as he finally looked up at Nathaneel. “The Lieutenant-Governor of Talaska has been killed.” Nathaneel nodded. “What else do you hear from the province?”

“There are mixed reports. Governor Lurent blames rebel factions working for Koren, but there are others—nobles loyal to the crown—who say otherwise.”

“What he told me is true, then,” Mikail muttered to himself.

“Your highness?”

“Lurent is plotting to depose me.”

Nathaneel narrowed his eyes and tightened his jaw. “It seems likely. What are your orders? Shall I bring him to you?”

Mikail recalled Samael’s words of the night before: “Kill him first, before he makes an attempt on your life.”

Damnable demon. Mikail absentmindedly tapped the parchment on his left hand. To suggest that I ignore the rule of law—I would be no better than Lurent himself if I were to kill him without provocation.

“My lord… Mikail, are you all right?” Mikail heard Nathaneel say.

“I’m fine.” Mikail forced himself to focus on the conversation at hand. “Yes. Have him brought to the capital. See that he’s treated well, but do not allow him to speak to any of his associates.”

Nathaneel bowed, “On your orders, your majesty.”

Mikail nodded. Expecting Nathaneel to leave, he looked back down at his desk and picked up the next in a large stack of papers for his review. Nathaneel, however, remained standing in front of the desk.  “Is there something else, Nathaneel?”

Nathaneel’s cheeks reddened slightly. “Yes,” he replied. “I want to apologize for last night.”

Doing his utmost not to react, Mikail said only, “What for?”

“It seems I had a bit too much to drink.” Nathaneel shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his lips pursed. “I remember coming here for dinner, but not much else. I do remember drinking a bit of that Verian wine, though.”

Mikail laughed. “Don’t concern yourself with it,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “My only fear was that you might not make it back to your room on your own. I had more than my fair share of wine, as well.” He spoke the truth; he and Samael had finished nearly two bottles between them.

“It will not happen again, your majesty,” Nathaneel said, his tone once again formal. “that I swear.” He bowed, then whispered, “But I am pleased you took my advice.”

Mikail forced a smile as he watched Nathaneel leave, then re-read the letter from Talaska. He couldn’t help but wonder if his decision not to order the death of Lord Lurent had been colored by his reaction to Samael’s demands. “Tell me you want me,” he heard Samael say.

He’d wanted to give in.  He’d wanted to speak the words.  Worse, he’d wanted to submit to Samael, to surrender control.

“No,” Mikail said aloud, crumpling the parchment in his first. “I will not have you order me. No one will order me!”


His hands were bound, tied to the ceiling of the dark cave. “No, not this!” Desperation welled up within him as he found himself once more a prisoner in the damp caves. “Not again!”

He felt the sting of the whip on his bare shoulders, heard the Koren commander’s laugh, and felt a thick hand around his neck, choking him. “Beg for it, dog,” he heard his captor say. “Tell me you want it. I want to hear you beg!”

No!” He felt the coarse hands on his raw skin, the hand between his legs, pressing into the place where he was already torn, bleeding. “Never!”

He felt hot pain and smelled the commander’s foul breath by his cheek. “Handsome dog,” the commander whispered.

No, please,” he begged. “Please, not again!”


Mikail awoke with a start. He’d fallen asleep at his desk while reading a report about the state of the wheat crop in the southern provinces. His skin was clammy, his shirt soaked with sweat. He rubbed his face with his hands and willed away the sensation that the walls of his office were closing around him. Unable to find relief, he stood up and tried to catch his breath.

I have to get out of here.  He opened the door to his study, and ignoring the startled looks on the faces of the guards, walked with purpose down the hallway to the servants’ stairs. He did not want anyone to see him like this. He reached the bottom floor and found the entrance to the gardens, pushed it open and inhaled the cool night air. He knew his guards weren’t far, although they wouldn’t follow him into the secluded gardens.  Once outside, he tossed off his shoes and ran on the soft grass until he was far enough away from the castle that he was sure he would not be seen. He fell to his hands and knees, gasping for air.

Once more in control of himself a few minutes later, he lay back on the grass. Overhead, the night sky was full of stars, more visible still because the moon had not yet risen. The cool breeze against his damp clothes made him shiver, but he didn’t care—he could breathe again, and the feeling that he would die if he didn’t escape the confines of his room had passed.  The memory of the dank odor of the Koren prison faded was replaced by the soft scent of the jasmine wafting on the breeze.

“He was right, you know,” said a familiar voice from a tree branch overhead. “You have been working too hard, Mikail.”

“What are you doing here?” Mikail demanded. He found Samael’s presence unnerving. The gardens were one of the few places in the palace where Mikail found solitude; even his guards had orders not to follow him here.

“I was looking for you,” Samael replied. “Nathaneel fell asleep, and I awoke to thoughts of you.  I sensed your distress.” Dressed in a loose tunic and pants, Samael’s long hair blew about his face in the light breeze and his silver eyes were luminous in the darkness.

“Leave me.” Mikail didn’t want pity, let alone this demon’s.

“But you don’t really want me to leave, do you?” Samael hopped down from the tree and lay on his side next to Mikail, his head propped on one arm. He watched Mikail for a moment, then reached out his free hand to touch Mikail’s temple with his long fingers.

“Don’t touch—” Mikail began to say, but he unexpectedly felt the muscles in his shoulders relax and he stopped short. Samael withdrew his hand. “What… What did you do, just now?”

“It’s something Seeraz showed me,” Samael explained. “It helped me, when I first found the Shedim. I was angry, out of control. It gave me peace… at least for a short time.”

“Seeraz knew you existed apart from Nathaneel?”

“Of course.” The edges of Samael’s mouth curved upward in something approximating a smile. “How would he not? I’m half Shedim. He sensed the truth of my existence immediately. He understood that I shared the other one’s body.”

This revelation shouldn’t have been a surprise; of course Seeraz would have sensed the truth about Nathaneel. Still, it troubled Mikail that he’d not taken the opportunity to ask Seeraz more about Nathaneel. “But how did you know to go to your”—Mikail hesitated for a moment—“people?”

Samael canted his head to one side as if assessing Mikail’s reaction. “After I freed you from the Koren,” he said, “I was wild. Out of control. I was a newborn—freed from the other one’s mind at last, but without understanding. I knew only that I must free you from that prison, but nothing else.

“I wandered aimlessly through the mountains,” he continued. “Fortunately I met no other Shaeran soldiers. Or I should say, fortunate for them. I would have killed them on the spot. One of Seeraz’s brethren found me—sensed my presence—and allowed us to pass into their world.”

“They let us live because they knew what you were.” Mikail had guessed this, years before. He didn’t relish the thought that he owed Nathaneel—or was it Samael?—his life twice over. He should have been stronger.  If he’d not crumbled under the Koren’s torture, perhaps Nathaneel would never have been born.


“But why didn’t they tell Nathaneel?” asked Mikail. “If they knew about you….”

“Your gallant captain would not have been able to abide the truth. It would have destroyed him.”

Mikail wondered silently if it would be any different now, years later. Would Nathaneel survive such a revelation?

Samael got to his knees and drew close enough to Mikail to brush his lips. Mikail closed his eyes. Like this, he could almost imagine it was Nathaneel whose lips he felt. The thought repulsed him. This is wrong.  In spite of his disgust, his body’s response deepened.  Struggling for control, he pushed Samael away and sat up.

“Having second thoughts?” Samael appeared unfazed. He plucked a blade of grass and sucked on it, his expression almost childlike.

“It was a mistake. I should never have given in last night. I betrayed him.”

Samael leaned over once more, his lips so close to Mikail’s ear that Mikail shivered in response. “Yet you fight your desire for me, even now.”

“You are far too full of yourself, demon.”

Samael’s laughter reminded Mikail of the way the moon glitters as its light touches the water. “I have no interest in staying where I am unwanted.” Samael shrugged, the stood up and began to wrap his long hair around his finger. “But should you decide you wish my company—”

“Never,” lied Mikail. He did not wish to hear the creature’s offer for fear he would not be able to resist.

“Suit yourself, your majesty.” Samael smiled coyly and waved his hand. “But I must caution you.  Allowing the Governor of Talaska to live will put your life at risk.” Samael narrowed his eyes.  His smile had vanished. “Even the most loyal of your men”—he paused, and Mikail knew instantly of whom he spoke—“cannot protect you from your own foolhardiness.” With that, he disappeared into the shadows of the trees.

Mikail stood up and walked slowly back to the castle, resolved not to let Samael unnerve him. Easier said than done.  He ignored the servants’ shocked expressions as he entered the kitchens, still in his bare feet. “Have my dinner sent to my chambers.”

“Of course, your majesty,” replied one of the male servants, who flushed scarlet and gestured to the several of the women.

“And see to it that Lady Renna pays me a call,” he added. Renna would take his mind off Samael and satisfy the need Samael had awoken in him.

“Yes, your majesty,” the servant replied, a knowing expression on his face. “I am sure she will be pleased.”

Mikail said nothing, but turned and walked back up the servants’ stairway to his private chambers. He would get no more work done this night.

Damnable demon.


Nathaneel wandered the hallways of the castle. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but the urge to find it was almost more than he could abide. His bare feet made no noise upon the stone floors, and as he walked, he realized he’d forgotten his shirt and jacket. For a moment, he considered turning back. It would not do to have the Captain of the Royal Guard prowling the castle at night out of uniform. But suddenly found himself standing in front of a door—the door to a room in which he rarely found himself, but which he recognized at once. The door opened of its own accord and  he walked inside.

Why are you here?” a familiar voice asked from the shadows.

I…” he hesitated. “I don’t know. I only know that I wanted something and thought it might be here.”

What is it that you want?” Mikail emerged from the darkness. He wore only a robe of the darkest blue silk, tied loosely at his waist. His auburn hair cascaded over his shoulders, unrestrained by its familiar leather tie.

Nathaneel walked toward Mikail and, reaching out with his fingers, traced the hollow of Mikail’s cheek. “I…” he was whispering now. “I know it’s not right, but I…”

Before he could finish, Mikail pulled him close and kissed him deeply. Something stirred in Nathaneel’s groin, demanding, almost painful. He pulled away, horrified at his response.

I’ve waited for you, Nathaneel,” Mikail said. “I have hungered for you. But if you don’t want this—”

Nathaneel cut short Mikail’s words as he claimed Mikail’s lips and ran his fingers through Mikail’s soft hair.  A wanton moan issued from Nathaneel’s lips, his voice unrecognizable, as though someone else inhabited his body. “I desire this,” Nathaneel heard himself say as he untied Mikail’s robe and laced his arms around Mikail’s back. Mikail’s skin was smooth, the muscle taut beneath. Nathaneel grew harder, hungrier still.

Nathaneel pushed the silk robe off Mikail’s shoulders and let it fall to the floor.  His hands explored Mikail’s body, traveling down his back until he reached the tight cheeks of Mikail’s buttocks. Without thinking, he grabbed at the hard muscles there, kneading them to Mikail’s moans.

An instant later, or so it seemed, they both lay on Mikail’s large bed, the curtains drawn around them. He shed his trousers and straddled Mikail. He bent over Mikail and licked his chest, then latched onto a pebbled nipple and bite mercilessly at it. He felt heat burn within his belly, and he grabbed Mikail’s hard length in his hand, rubbing it up and down until he heard Mikail gasp.

Tell me you want me,” he heard himself demand, words that shocked him, although he himself had spoken them.

No!” Mikail answered, his body suddenly tense and his eyes dark with anger. In spite of Mikail’s protests—or perhaps because of them—Nathaneel’s physical need grew. Something within him broke free from the place where he had caged it. He rolled Mikail onto his belly, and then, after licking a finger, he plunged it in between Mikail’s buttocks. Hearing Mikail’s cry of pain, he pressed a second finger in, then a third, each time reveling in Mikail’s reaction. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he removed his fingers and pressed his hard cock against the tight opening.

No, please,” he heard Mikail cry. “Not that. Please, not that!”

He couldn’t stop himself. In and out he thrust, showing no mercy, despite Mikail’s pleas. Each cry, each word spoken in pain aroused him more. “Tell me you want me,” he ordered once more, “and I will stop.”

Never!” Mikail’s voice broke. “You’ll have to kill me first.”

He ignored Mikail, continuing his assault until he could hold back no longer. Shuddering, Mikail’s limp body beneath his, he shouted his climax, his voice high, animal-like. He rolled onto his back, sated and spent. Satisfied.

He dozed, but awoke when he heard someone sobbing. He opened his eyes. He was no longer in Mikail’s chambers, but in a small, dank cell, hewn from rock. Mikail lay on the cold stone, naked and bleeding.

Mikail,” he said. “Mikail. I didn’t… I never meant… Mikail!”

Please. Kill me.”

No,” Nathaneel whispered, horrified at the thought. “I won’t have you die. I couldn’t bear it. Oh, God, what have I done? I never meant… I thought you wanted this too…”

Nathaneel screamed.


Nathaneel woke up, a strangled scream dying in his throat, his entire body shaking. For a moment, he looked around for Mikail. He was alone, in his own room, drenched in sweat.

“Mikail,” he whispered.  Fear gripped him like claws, tearing at his chest. He stood up, threw on a tunic and trousers.  He didn’t even glance in the mirror. He knew nothing but fear; fear for Mikail. “No, please…” he thought miserably, running out of his quarters barefoot, as he’d done in the dream.  He reached the castle in less than a minute.

He ran up the stairs, stopping for a moment to reassure the guards that all was well.  They did not stop him. He ran to Mikail’s rooms.  His heart beat painfully against his ribs and he struggled to breathe. The hallway was dark, the servants had all retired for the night. Where are the guards? His fear grew with every passing moment.

He heard cries from within Mikail’s room. Without hesitating, he opened the door. Mikail was kneeling on top of his bed, his body arched over a beautiful young woman with long, blond hair. Mikail didn’t see Nathaneel in the doorway. Mikail sucked lustily at the woman’s breast and then, laughing, pushed into her and began to move against her slim hips. He threw his head backward, his hair a tangled mess about his face. She grabbed onto Mikail’s arms and clung to him, clearly enthralled.

For a moment, Nathaneel remained there. Then, realizing how foolish he’d been to come, believing the dream to be real, he retreated silently back into the hall and shut the door. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, willing away his shame. You don’t deserve him anyhow.

He turned and walked down the hallway to the stairs, cutting back through the gardens that separated the castle from the building that quartered the officers of the Royal Guard. He paused to lean against a nearby tree, hoping to gather himself before his men might see him. He ran his fingers over the bark and imagined himself sitting on the large branch over his head. He looked back toward the castle, laughing at himself for having thought his dream was real.

A single light was visible in the night—Mikail’s room. The bitter laugh on his lips died as he watched a solitary figure by the window there, his guilt and shame replaced now by something else. Something darker. He forced the feeling aside, unwilling to search for understanding within.


Mikail bid his female companion leave—she appeared quite displeased to be dismissed so early in the evening, but she knew better than to complain. She left his room with a wistful glance back at Mikail that Mikail pretended he hadn’t seen.

Mikail threw on his robe, picked up the large candle at his bedside, and walked over to the window that opened onto the garden. He felt restless, unsatisfied, and hungry for something more. A lone figure stood near where Mikail had lain on the grass only hours before. He recognized the tall figure immediately. Nathaneel. He cursed himself for wanting Nathaneel, an, at the same time wished he hadn’t sent Samael away earlier.

I’m weak.

After a moment, the figure leaning against the tree moved catlike across the garden toward the quarters of the Royal Guard. From his window, Mikail wondered which of the two—the man or the demon—he had seen.


Chapter Five: Second Thoughts

Mikail paced the length of his office, pausing from time to time to look out the window at the gardens. Spring had arrived in a blaze of color—early roses that climbed the high walls,  painting the white stone in fuchsia, yellow, and red.  The pale green grass was speckled with tiny points of purple and yellow. The scent from the flowers rose on the breeze and wafted into Mikail’s office.

Rika Shura sat in front of Mikail’s desk, his shoulders slumped, his face pale. He and Mikail had been discussing the upcoming meeting of the Council of Provinces and the trial of Governor Lurent since sunup. A servant knocked and scurried inside, carrying a tray of food.

“Eat, Rika,” Mikail said as he walked over Shura and patted him on the shoulder.  “It won’t do for you to overtax yourself before the Council is convened.  I need your good counsel.”

Rika nodded and they helped themselves to breakfast.  As Shura discussed the pending arrival of dignitaries from throughout the kingdom, Mikail’s thoughts strayed to Samael. In the two days since he’d revealed himself, Mikail could think of little else. He already regretted his decision to push Samael away, having been left unsatisfied from his encounter of the night before. He couldn’t blame Lady Renna—there were few women as lovely to be found in the kingdom—but Samael had stirred something primal within his soul, and Mikail craved more.

“Majesty, you will need a suitable escort to the Eventide Ball,” Shura reminded Mikail as Mikail continued to pace.

“The Lieutenant-Governor of Talaska has been assassinated, Lord Lurent is being brought here to answer for his murder, and you’re concerned about a ball?” Mikail shook his head and gazed out the window.

“The Eventide Ball has been held every year at this time since your great-great-great-great grandfather ruled the kingdom,” Shura pointed out with an audible sigh.

“Then cancel it.”

“And let your enemies know how much their actions have affected you?” Shura countered. Mikail rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “May I point out that you sought my counsel, majesty.”

“Yes. That I did.”  Mikail settled heavily into one of the chairs by the fireplace. He’d despised the lavish affairs of court since he was a child.  He found it too easy to remember how his father had forced him to attend.  How could he forget the whispered gossip about his mother, or the condescending looks of the courtiers? Not that the same men and women would call him the ‘bastard prince’ anymore.  Those same courtiers now vied for his attentions.

“Social gatherings serve not only to gather the powerful, they demonstrate the health of the monarchy. Canceling the celebration would be unwise, especially given the current situation in Talaska.”

Mikail leaned his head back and drew a slow breath. “I suppose Lady Renna would make a suitable escort.”

“Yes,” Shura replied. “And if you were to announce your engagement to her, so much the—”

“I will not take a wife to satisfy the court.”

“I’ve known you since you were small, Mikail.”  Shura walked over to Mikail and put his hand on his shoulder.  “I know you never sought to rule Shaeran… Your father knew it as well—it’s why he never forced you to live in the castle. But you will need an heir.”

Mikail said nothing. How could he argue? “I’ve asked you to speak your mind,” he said. “I thank you for that.”

Shura squeezed his shoulder.  “I will let Renna know she’s to be your escort.  If there’s nothing else, then, may I take my leave?”

“You may leave.”  Mikail offered Shura a smile.

“Your highness.”  Shura bowed, then left without another word.

Mikail walked back to the window.  A redbird settled on one of the trees outside.  Mikail could almost imagine Samael seated at the base of its thick trunk, the smooth skin of his chest glinting in the sunlight.

Oh how he longed to be back in the forest! He’d loved his life as a soldier, far from the politics of court. Back then, his half-brother Rayson, the full-blooded crown prince of Shaeran, was to take their father’s place. But when Rayson had fallen in battle, Mikail had dutifully taken his place at his father’s side. Would he ever feel worthy of his title?

“There are those who are born into power,” his father told him not long before his death, “and there are those who must earn it.  But make no mistake, Mikail, the strongest leaders suffer the most.”

“Your highness?”

The familiar voice brought Mikail back to himself. “Please come in, Nathaneel.” He heard the door close and the sound of footsteps on the stone floor, but he did not turn around.

“If I’m intruding,” Nathaneel said, his tone clipped, “I can return later.”

“No.” Mikail sighed and turned to greet Nathaneel.  “Now is as good a time as any. I’m sorry, I—”

“No doubt you’re tired after last night.” Nathaneel stood at attention, and Mikail noticed a subtle change in his expression which he could not quite fathom.

“Last night?” Mikail frowned. “What of last night?”

“You were”—Nathaneel hesitated—“preoccupied.”

“And what of it?” He rubbed his eyes and sat at his desk.

“You put yourself in danger by releasing the guards.  You overruled my express orders that they remain outside your door throughout the night.” Nathaneel’s eyes flashed with anger.

Mikail laughed and shook his head. “I hardly think my guest posed any risk of harm.” He hoped his offhanded tone would convince Nathaneel to drop the subject, but Nathaneel was undeterred.

“It’s my duty to see that you remain safe.”

“And you do a remarkable job of it.” Mikail had dismissed his guards many times before, and he and Nathaneel had laughed together about his lack of concern.  Why was Nathaneel so angry this time?  He studied Nathaneel’s face and again saw anger there.  That, and something else.  Guilt?

“Do you mock me, majesty?” Nathaneel’s cheeks reddened and he shifted from one foot to the other.

“No, of course not.”  Mikail hadn’t wanted to make things worse by joking about it, but Nathaneel’s odd behavior left him perplexed.  Irritated, as well. Perhaps now that Nathaneel commanded the guards, Mikail would need to be more careful when dismissing them. “I would never—”

“You will always have the final say on matters of state, but you must allow me to see to your protection. But perhaps your beautiful companion was too much of a distraction for you to think about your safety.”

This was the final provocation for Mikail, who was still ill-tempered from his conversation with Shura minutes before. “I don’t need a nursemaid.  And I certainly don’t need you to pry into my personal affairs. Need I remind you who urged me to take a lover?”

Nathaneel blanched at these words. “No. Of course not, majesty.”

Mikail’s jaw tensed to see Nathaneel’s reaction, and he willed himself to relax. For a minute, perhaps more, he did not speak. Finally, with genuine remorse, he said, “I’m sorry to have troubled you, Nathaneel. You’re right. I should not have interfered in your work.”

Nathaneel blinked in surprise. “You needn’t apologize,” he murmured, clearly at a loss for words, “I—”

“Sometimes an apology is in order, even from a king. I’ve been… distracted. I didn’t mean to take my frustrations out on you.” Their eyes met briefly, then Mikail walked over to the window.

“Is there anything I can do?” Nathaneel asked.

“Is there anything more to report from Talaska?” Mikail was more than happy to move on to another topic.

“Governor Lurent will arrive tomorrow morning, but there’s nothing more to tell. I’ve stationed additional guards around the palace for your safety and the safety of the Council members,” answered Nathaneel. “I don’t expect trouble, but it’s best to remain vigilant.”

“I’ve no doubt you will ensure the meeting and the trial are conducted without incident.” Mikail tightened his jaw and shuffled some papers around on his desk.

“There is, however, one other matter to discuss,” Nathaneel added after a pause. Mikail nodded for Nathaneel to continue. “Advisor Shura has requested that my men ensure the safety of the guests at the Eventide Ball.”

“Very well. See to it.” Nathaneel bowed low, then turned to walk out of the office. “Nathaneel?”

“Yes, sire?”

“See to it that you enjoy the ball, as well. I think we’ve both been working too hard lately.”

The tension in Nathaneel’s expression eased with these words.  He smiled warmly, nodded, then left the office.

Mikail ran a hand through his hair and stared at doorway. In the years they’d known each other, he’d never seen Nathaneel lose his temper. He couldn’t help but wonder if Nathaneel’s anger was somehow related to Samael’s appearance two days before.


An hour later, a knock on the study door interrupted Mikail as he read the reports from Talaska once again. He’d long since committed every detail of the report to memory, but he hoped he’d gain some new insight into the situation before he met with the Council.

“Your highness,” said the bright young guard Mikail recognized as Ruren, one of Nathaneel’s new recruits, “the Captain asked that I to escort you to Court.”

Mikail sighed and gazed at the stack of documents he told himself he would finish reviewing before nightfall. He’d completely forgotten he was to hold court today. “Since when do I need an escort within the castle walls?” he asked.

The young cadet trembled almost imperceptibly, but held his ground. “The Captain requires it, your majesty.”

“Very well.” He’d grant Nathaneel this much. Mikail motioned for the servant who waited at the entrance to the study.

“Your highness,” said the young woman, bowing deeply.

“Tell my manservant I must dress,” Mikail said as he opened the door to his private rooms. Ruren hesitated, looking befuddled. Mikail, seeing the boy’s discomfort, added, “Certainly the Captain doesn’t require you to watch me while I dress?” He’d meant the comment in jest, although Ruren was an attractive young man and the thought held a certain appeal.

Ruren blushed deeply. “N-no, your m-majesty,” he stammered, although Mikail noted with some satisfaction that Ruren’s eyes strayed appreciatively over his broad shoulders.

“Good. You will await me outside, then.” And perhaps, later….

“Yes, sir!” Ruren nearly shouted. “I mean, your highness!”

Mikail chuckled as he closed the door behind him.


The throne room was decorated in the ceremonial silver and green of Shaeran to herald the arrival of dignitaries from all over the kingdom. In retrospect, Mikail realized he’d been told several times that the ball would be held this month. He’d also known there would be more visitors than usual to the castle; he’d just chosen to ignore the information. Although he tried to blame his scattered thoughts on the unrest in Talaska and other matters of state, he knew he was lying to himself.  More than anything, Samael weighed heavily on his mind.

Nathaneel, resplendent in his dress uniform, stood on the dais where Mikail was to receive guests. His dark hair was tied with leather at the nape of his neck, emphasizing his high cheekbones and chiseled jaw. His presence there was both heartening and unsettling to Mikail. As always, Mikail felt the familiar longing resurface, but forced himself to push it aside.

Now in his element, Advisor Shura cordially greeted those wishing an audience and presented each to Mikail. For the most part, theirs were familiar faces: governors and nobility from the provinces, supporters of Mikail’s rule. However, several hours into what had become a far longer audience than Mikail had expected, Shura introduced a delegation from the border province of Moren, including the Governor, his wife, and several delegates to the Council of Provinces. After making their introductions, Shura motioned for a woman at the back of the delegation to come forward. She curtseyed, as was customary at court, but did not lower her eyes as might be expected, instead meeting Mikail’s with surprising boldness.

“Your majesty,” Advisor Shura said, “may I present Lady Tanea, the daughter of the former Governor, Lord Runa.”

Mikail nodded, noting with approval the wavy black hair that nearly reached her narrow waist. She wore a modest velvet dress of bright green and, when she raised her face to meet his gaze, Mikail saw that her eyes were nearly the same color as the fabric. She was tall for a woman, although not quite as tall as Mikail, with high cheekbones and a graceful neck. Her figure was ample in all the places a woman should be. Eschewing the heavy jewels worn by many of the castle guests, she wore a delicate pendant that hung into the crease of her bosom on a narrow gold chain, set with an amber store Mikail did not recognize.

“My lady,” said Mikail.  He couldn’t help but note that her eyes looked very much like Nathaneel’s, with a hint of silver in their depths. “It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the City of Shaeran. Have you traveled here before?”

“This is my first visit, your majesty,” Tanea replied, her manner confident but deferential. “I’m afraid there was little opportunity to visit during the war with Koren. As you know, we have only now finished rebuilding the provincial capital.”

“Of course.” The people of Moren had suffered during the war—their location on the edge of the no-man’s land that divided Shaeran from Koren had left them vulnerable to enemy attacks during the conflict. Tanea’s father, the Governor of the province, had been killed in one such raid.  “I was saddened to hear of the death of your father, my lady. He was a good man. My father spoke highly of him.”

“You honor his memory with your words, majesty,” she replied.

“Will you be staying for Eventide?”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Good,” he said with a smile. “I hope you will do me the honor of a dance.”

“I would be delighted, your highness,” she answered with a curtsey. Then, glancing over to where Nathaneel was standing, she added, “I’m told the Captain of your guard was also born in Moren.”

“Indeed,” Mikail replied. “Have you two met before?”

“No,” she replied, “although I had hoped to meet him.”

“That is easily taken care of.” Mikail stood up and motioned for Nathaneel to join them. “Captain, this is Lady Tanea, daughter of the late Governor Runa. My lady, this is Nathaneel, the captain of my royal guard.”

“A pleasure, my lady.” Nathaneel bowed deeply.

Tanea smiled and nodded. “I understand you are also from Moren, Captain,” she said.

Yes.” Nathaneel appeared pleased to hear this. “I lived there until my mother’s death, when I was sent to the orphanage here in Shaeran. I was very young; I remember little of my life there.”

“Please escort Lady Tanea around the castle and grounds,” Mikail told Nathaneel.  He wished he himself could do the honors, if only to escape the tedium of the audience.

“I would love to see the castle. How kind of you to suggest it, your majesty.” For an instant, Mikail thought he saw something akin to amusement in Tanea’s eyes.

“But of course.” Mikail nodded as she curtseyed once again.

“If you will follow me, my lady.” Nathaneel bowed to her. Mikail met Nathaneel’s gaze for a brief moment and guessed he was displeased, although he bowed to Mikail, then offered Tanea his arm and lead her across the dais and through a doorway into the main entrance of the castle.


Back in his rooms after a formal dinner—during which Mikail struggled to remain alert in spite of his exhaustion—Mikail let his manservant help him change out of his heavy robes. After dismissing the elderly servant, he warmed his hands before the fire for several minutes before walking over to his window.

You know who you wish to see there. The wind rustled through the trees, and Mikail imagined Samael seated on the branch as he had been, days before. He wondered with a pang of jealousy if Nathaneel were dining with Tanea; he’d seen neither of them since the audience hours earlier.

An hour later, having replaced the book on Koren military history he’d taken from the shelf, he slipped on a pair of shoes and opened the door to his chambers. The two guards Nathaneel had posted there stood at attention, but he walked past them to the stairs that led to the garden. “But your majesty,” one of them shouted after him. “The captain said—”

Mikail waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t need an escort to walk in the gardens.” As he expected, the guards said nothing. Who were they to argue with the King?

The gardens were deserted. The evening was surprisingly warm—a hint of summer in early spring. Here and there, flowers bloomed, scenting the gardens with freesia and roses. Mikail kicked off his shoes and walked barefoot on the soft grass to the place where he’d last seen Samael. There, he sat down, closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet fragrance. Now more than ever he regretted his decision to push Samael away.

“May I join you?”

Mikail opened his eyes to find Nathaneel seated in front of him, cross-legged. No, not Nathaneel. Even in the darkness, Samael’s silver eyes glowed. “What do you want?”

Samael grinned like a child.  “Precisely what I intended to ask you, Mikail.”

For a moment, Mikail wished he too could be so carefree and honest. “I have no strength for games tonight,” he said with resignation. And no will to resist you.

“The only one playing games is you. I have always been honest. Or will you still not admit you desire me?”

“What good will that do?” Mikail ran a hand through his hair, dislodging the tie that held it from his face.

“That remains to be seen.” Samael leaned forward to brush an errant strand of hair from Mikail’s eyes.

Mikail was thankful his tunic hid his body’s response to the gossamer touch. Why do you fight the truth of it?  There is nothing shameful in your desire except that the object of your affection knows nothing of it.He exhaled a long, slow breath and said, “Yes. I desire you. Are you pleased to hear it?”

Samael laughed. “Honesty, for once.”

“Honesty…,” mused Mikail, knowing he sounded bitter. He deserved no credit for honesty. Was he not continuing to betray his best friend by withholding the truth of Samael’s existence?

“He is honorable to a fault, your gallant captain,” Samael said, no doubt guessing at Mikail’s thoughts. “He fears for you, and for your soul.”

“My soul is hardly at risk.” Mikail met Samael’s gaze.  He longed to understand Samael’s thoughts and understand his connection to Nathaneel, and yet he knew if he asked, Samael would only exploit his obvious weakness.

“So you say,” Samael replied. “And yet you deny the pain that has taken hold there. You run from your painful memories. You deny yourself that which you desire above all, and punish yourself for what I offer you.”

Mikail said nothing.  Of course Samael would know of both his painful memories and his desire.  Samael and Nathaneel shared those memories with him.

“Let me help you to forget,” Samael whispered, moving so that he now kneeled behind Mikail, his lips so close that Mikail could feel his breath. “Let me show you the pleasures you crave.” He licked the delicate skin of Mikail’s neck, causing Mikail to moan. “I know the others you take to your bed leave you cold.  I alone know your body’s desires.”

Mikail got to his feet and struggled to regain his composure.  If you don’t leave now, you have let him win.

Samael moved so swiftly that Mikail only realized he was standing behind him when Samael pulled back his hair and brushed his soft lips over his shoulder.  “I can heal your soul, if you will let me,” whispered Samael, resting his fingers lightly on Mikail’s right temple. “I can make you forget—”

“No!” Mikail turned and grabbed Samael roughly by the shoulders. “I will not have you force me!”

Samael grinned. “You want to hit me, don’t you? You wish I would disappear so that you can continue to live a lie.  But if I disappear, so will he.

“You truly are a demon.  To threaten me—”

“What do you want, Mikail?” Samael appeared unfazed.

Mikail kissed Samael. The taste was earthy, like the scent of the grass and the trees. He felt his own arousal and knew he had no more strength to resist. He sought Samael’s tongue, wound his arms around Samael’s lean waist, and growled his pleasure as he plundered Samael’s mouth. I will take you on my own terms. He would not to cede his will to this creature, even if he’d already ceded his soul.

He pushed Samael against a tree and pinned him there. Samael did not resist as he unbuttoned his shirt, pushing it over Samael’s shoulders so it fell silently on the grass, and ran his hands over the hard muscle of Samael’s chest. The skin there felt warm, as if it responded with heat to his touch. He pinched and twisted Samael’s nipples until Samael cried out. He did not hesitate as he unfastened Samael’s trousers and pulled them down along with his undergarment. Already, Samael’s cock was hard, his breaths panted, his pale skin flushed with arousal.

“Turn around,” Mikail ordered.

“Gladly.” Samael licked his lips with his long tongue, then complied.

Mikail exhaled a stuttered breath as he got his first good look at Samael’s lithe body.  He ghosted his fingers over Samael’s back, following the strange markings that began at Samael’s shoulder and ran down his spine: wisps of black, red, and brown that looked like fire. The markings radiated from Samael’s neck and disappeared between the taut muscles of his buttocks. He hadn’t noticed the mesmerizing patterns before, in the darkness of his study. He lingered over them, fascinated, until his need to satisfy himself grew too powerful. He unbuttoned his own trousers and freed his painfully hard cock from the confines of the fabric, then hesitated.

“Even in your anger, you are kind,” Samael said.  He laughed and shook his head.  “I have no need for oil.  Satisfy yourself and be done with it.” He licked his lips once again and braced himself against the tree trunk.

Mikail gritted his teeth, his anger combining with desire as he parted Samael’s ass cheeks and pressed against the tight ring of muscle.  Samael hissed as the opening slowly gave way to Mikail’s cock.  For a moment, Mikail forgot himself and raked his fingernails over the skin of Samael’s back, reveling in Samael’s cries of pain and pleasure. He reached around, took Samael’s erection in his hand, then squeezed it hard.

“Your anger is charming,” Samael said, his voice distorted with lust.

“I’ve had enough of your taunts.” Mikail covered Samael’s mouth with his free hand and began to thrust with abandon.  Faster he plunged, panting, legs shaking with the effort. Samael growled like an animal and arched his back to press his buttocks against Mikail and drive him deeper inside. Samael growled once more, then licked the palm of Mikail’s hand. This was more than Mikail could bear, and his desire peaked as his self-control fled.  He came with a shout, then shuddered and pulled Samael against his chest.  At nearly the same moment, Samael spilled over Mikail’s hand.

For a few minutes, neither spoke, their panted breaths mingling, their bodies sweat-covered and shaking from the effort of their union.  “You’re obstinate,” Samael said in a rough voice.  Mikail saw the look of triumph in his silver eyes. “You need this. Why do you deny yourself?”

Mikail had no answer. He knew he was lost—there was no return from the barrier he’d crossed tonight. There had been no mistake; he’d willingly taken Samael despite his misgivings, knowing it was wrong.

Later, back in his own chambers, having satisfied himself once more in Samael’s arms, Mikail ran his fingers over the Samael’s smooth skin. It was the first of many nights Samael would warm his bed.


In the deserted gardens below Mikail’s window, Samael watched as a lone figure prowled barefoot on the thick grass. In the light of the rising moon, it stretched its long arms and beckoned skyward, its silver eyes aglow, its fingertips reaching toward the stars. A single, plaintive cry rent the silent trees, and the figure disappeared into the shadows, the silence now restored.

Samael went to Mikail, combed his fingers through his silky hair, then kissed his cheek. I can free you from your pain, if you will only let me. He returned to the window, and with a quick glance back at Mikail asleep in the bed, climbed onto the sill and jumped into the darkness to follow the call.


Chapter Six: Gathering Clouds

“Lurent has arrived,” Samael said as he lounged naked in front of the fire, “and yet you still refuse to take my advice.” Mikail rolled over onto his side, the warm fur blanket slipping off of his shoulders so that he, too, lay naked on the hearth rug.

Mikail inhaled slowly, unwilling to immediately return to the reality of life at court after their evening of sensual pleasure.  He wanted only to remain here, at Samael’s side, take Samael again and revel in Samael’s cries of pleasure.  Samael’s scent was like sunshine peering through the leaves of the thickest part of the forest, where the earth was warm and the smell of dying leaves was rich and relaxing to the senses.

“Is it not my prerogative to take that advice which I deem useful and disregard the rest?” Mikail asked before finding the sensitive spot between Samael’s ear and shoulder and licking it until Samael growled his approval.

For nearly a week now, Samael had spent each night in Mikail’s bed and, with each passing night, Mikail had begun to forget both his hesitation and his guilt over their strange relationship. He had come to rely upon Samael as an advisor and confidant, finding Samael’s opinions incisive and helpful. Still, Samael’s blunt notions of right and wrong troubled Mikail. “Only a weak ruler is troubled with morality,” Samael had told him the night before.  “It is the broader well-being of your kingdom that will suffer if you are constrained to act only with the approval of the Council in all things.”

“I will not serve as judge and executioner,” Mikail had replied.  The thought of doing away with Lurent was a tempting one, although he’d hardly have admitted the same to Samael.

Samael had laughed, the mischief in his eyes obvious, even playful.  “A king’s folly.” They had oft argued the point over the past few days, and Samael would not yet let the subject drop.

Now, Samael sat up and gazed into the fire, as if he had found some undeniable truth in the purple and red flames and sought to understand the depth of it.  “Are you so convinced the Council will see it your way?”

“Yes,” answered Mikail with more confidence than he felt. “While my brave captain—your counterpart—has been busying himself with preparations for the security of the Council meeting and the Eventide Ball, I have been busy courting those Council members who might be less inclined to agree that Lurent should be taught a lesson.”

“Courting?” Samael pushed Mikail onto his back and straddled him.  The fire spat angrily as one of the logs broke in two.  Firelight cast shadows that danced over Samael’s features, making him look far more like the demon he claimed to be.

“Is that not what a king must do to ensure success?”

“There are simpler ways of succeeding,” Samael countered as he ran a single finger from Mikail’s waist up his bare chest, then parted Mikail’s lips and allowed Mikail to suck on its tip.  “A king need not seek approval at every turn.”

Mikail grabbed Samael’s wrist and held his gaze. “I will not adopt the ways of a demon,” he said.  He pulled Samael to him their mouths were so close, Mikail felt Samael’s breath on his lips. “The Governor will have his trial.”

Samael sighed, then acceded to the demand of Mikail’s lips without further protest.  Later, Mikail watched the last of the fire gutter and die as several feet away, Samael pulled a white tunic over his head. Mikail found it difficult not to admire the curious markings on Samael’s back and the hard sinews of muscle that moved beneath his taut skin.

“Shall I return again tomorrow?” Samael opened the window to Micah’s chambers and gazed out at the dark sky beyond.

“I have no doubt you will do what you wish.”  Mikail didn’t doubt Samael knew his desire, but he’d not give Samael the satisfaction of admitting it.

Samael licked his lips suggestively, but said nothing.  A moment later, he laughed and climbed to the windowsill, then jumped. Mikail, spent and satisfied, sighed and allowed the warmth of the fire to lull him back into sleep.


Mikail walked with measured gait through the main entryway of the castle in full, formal dress. To say he felt uncomfortable, dressed as he was in long, fur-lined robes, a silver crown upon his head, wearing the ceremonial Sword of Shaeran, was an understatement. The entire week leading up to the formal event had been a seemingly endless progression of tedious social gatherings. The only ray of light in an otherwise exhausting week would come tomorrow, when Governor Lurent would meet his accusers in a special session of Council. At least then, Mikail thought, he might get back to the business of governing the kingdom rather than serving only as its figurehead.

Guards dressed in full regalia and holding long spears decorated with silver and green stood to each side of the tall doors to the castle’s ballroom. The room was already full of people, and the crowd parted as Mikail reached the doorway. From there, Shura joined him at his right, and Nathaneel at his left. As they walked inside, Mikail noticed Nathaneel had posted guards at various points throughout the enormous room.  Dressed as well in the colors of the Kingdom of Shaeran, they were a visible reminder of Nathaneel’s protection. Mikail still believed both Nathaneel and Samael to be overly concerned for his safety, but he had ceased to press the issue with either.  The Council would soon be gone and, with it, the need for increased security.

A young page followed the procession into the ballroom, stopping by the doors and shouting, “Hail King Mikail of Shaeran!” This introduction was followed by bows and curtsies all around, until Mikail reached the center of the room. There he stopped and, as tradition demanded, he bowed to the appreciative crowd. Those assembled in the ballroom rose as Mikail did, and Mikail drew his sword and raised it high above his head. The jewel-incrusted hilt caught the light of the chandeliers and sent a shower of multicolored light onto the walls of the room. Mikail closed his eyes and uttered the traditional blessing for Eventide, “May the peace of the heavens protect and defend Shaeran, and may the Kingdom prosper by my hand!”

There was a loud cheer from the crowd as the orchestra began to play. Nine pairs of dancers, male and female couples, ran inside the hall from the entrance as Mikail withdrew to the side of the room. Dressed in lively colors, each pair represented one of the eight provinces, with the addition of the green and silver of Shaeran. They bowed to one another and began a courtship tarantella, an elegant and graceful dance, traditional for spring. The dance was restrained, but the underlying current of sexuality was obvious in the way the dancers reached for each other in long, fluid movements, never touching.

In spite of himself, Mikail’s gaze wandered to Nathaneel, who stood nearby in his dress uniform, with his knee-length velvet cape and ceremonial sword. Mikail imagined the body beneath the uniform, sticky with sweat and pressed against his own. But in Mikail’s fantasy, it was not silver, but the deep green of Nathaneel’s eyes that he met as their gazes locked and their bodies moved in unison. As his body responded longingly to this mental image, Mikail willed his thoughts back to the present. The music finally cadenced, and the dancers paused, bowing and curtsying once more.

Then, beginning with a long cadenza played on a six-stringed violin, the rhythm increased, growing faster and faster. One by one, other instruments joined the frenzied music, and the dancers spun about, reaching for each other but never touching. Around they whirled until their bodies became almost indistinguishable from their partners’. They stamped the ground with their feet and thrust their hands skyward, finally touching their partners’ hands in a flurry of movement, then joined with intertwined fingers, their faces close enough that they might kiss. No longer simple yearning, the dancers’ turbulent movements conjured the passion of lovemaking and release. Mikail thought of the Shedim, and wondered if they, too, danced with such abandon.

The demonstration over, the crowd roared appreciatively. Couples drifted onto the dance floor at the far end of the room, eager to resume their merrymaking, and Mikail turned to Shura, who nodded his approval. They were soon surrounded by admirers, including parents—each hoping the King would dance with their daughter. With the utmost patience and respect, Mikail nodded pleasantly to those pressing him and said, “I have already promised the first dance. Perhaps later.” He bowed politely before handing his heavy cape to one of the nearby attendants.  He walked across the room to a sea of curious faces.  No doubt they all wondered who the king would choose as his first partner.

He spotted Tanea several yards away, standing by the Governor of Moren and his wife. He greeted the Governor warmly, kissed the Governor’s wife’s hand, then turned to Tanea and bowed. “May I have the honor of this dance?” he asked as he fixed his gaze upon hers.

“It would be my great pleasure, your highness,” Tanea replied, taking Mikail’s arm and allowing him to lead her toward the dancers.  She was even more beautiful that when they’d first met, with her long hair arranged in a dizzying tangle of braids.  Tiny lumescent stones were woven into her hair.  Mikail recognized these as Moren starstones.  Prized for their beauty, they were more valuable than gold and far rarer.  The silver threads woven through her deep blue dress sparkled in the light from the chandeliers, and her high cheekbones glittered as though it had been dusted with precious metals.

The orchestra played a familiar waltz and Mikail, as he often did at times like these, thanked his father for having forced him to endure training in court etiquette as well as swordplay. As a child, Mikail had only understood the importance of the latter, but now, as he danced comfortably with Tanea under the watchful eyes of the crowd, his appreciation for his schooling was immeasurable.

“You are an excellent dancer, your majesty,” Tanea remarked, gliding easily after him.

“I could say the same,” he replied. He spoke the truth; she was graceful and practiced in her movements, and he guessed that she, as the child of a high-ranking official, had also been taught to dance at an early age.

“And yet you do not appear to be enjoying yourself, your majesty.” Her expression was serene, but he caught a hint of sympathy in her gaze as she said this.

“Nor do you,” he countered. Over his shoulder, he saw Nathaneel watching them, a half-empty wineglass in his hand. Watching her, he corrected himself silently.

“I prefer other, more private entertainment.” Mikail couldn’t help but notice her unabashed interest.  Moren was known for its sensual pleasures.  Situated as they were near the high mountain forests, perhaps the Moren people had been influenced by unashamed sexuality of their Shedim neighbors.  There was no denying her beauty or appeal.  Still, after his unsatisfying evening with Renna, he had no interest in bedding her.

“Indeed.” He smiled and swung her about so that her hair moved in wisps about her face. The implication of her words had been clear and, but for Samael’s promise to join him later, Mikail wouldn’t have hesitated to accept her offer. She was both beautiful and intelligent.

She bowed as the music ended, and he expected she would remain in his company once their dance was over. Instead, however, she curtsied and turned to walk away. With a sigh, Mikail glanced around the room to find Nathaneel, ignoring the crowd gathering around him. Nathaneel was engrossed in conversation with several women, and Shura was speaking with one of the provincial governors. He felt a delicate hand on his elbow and turned to see Lady Renna at his side.

“I missed you,” she said in a low voice meant only for his ears. “I could be consoled, however, with a dance.” The edges of her mouth quirked upward, and her blue eyes sparkled.

“Of course.” Mikail noted Shura’s approving glance from over her shoulder. He took Renna’s hand and led her to the dance floor.  Her long gown swept across the white marble, her delicate beauty lost on him.

“I had hoped you would call on me again,” she said as she pressed her cheek against his. They danced, bodies touching and moving to the steady rhythm of the low drums.

“I’ve been quite busy.” He guessed she might take his response as an affront, although the truth was that he felt remorse for having used her as a substitute for Samael.  “I am sorry,” he added, hoping to ease her mind.

“I do not doubt it,” she said.  He saw genuine concern in her gaze. “You work far too hard, your majesty.”

Mikail laughed. “You’re beginning to sound like Nathaneel, my lady. I only do what I must.”

“I am told the Council will consider Lord Lurent’s fate tomorrow,” she said as they continued to moved about the floor in time with the music.

“Yes.” Mikail swung her gracefully about.  As he did so, he was that Tanea was now standing beside Nathaneel, and that they talked and laughed like old friends. “It is indeed a difficult time for Shaeran.”

“All the more reason for you to follow your gallant captain’s example, then. At least he seems to be enjoying the evening.” Mikail guessed she had seen him dancing with Tanea earlier, and wondered if she was jealous.

“I’m glad for that,” he lied. Silently, however, he cursed Samael, although he knew full well that it was Nathaneel whom he saw grinning at his raven-haired companion.

The music ended, and Mikail bowed to Renna. “As always, my lady, it is a pleasure to be in your company.”

“And I in yours,” she answered. “Please do not hesitate to call on me. I am always at your disposal.”

“You are too kind.” He forced a smile, the nodded and turned away from her. He strode over to where Shura and several council members were having an animated discussion. But as he drew nearer, he noticed Nathaneel and Tanea move across the ballroom, her hand resting on his elbow as they walked through a side doorway.

“Your majesty!” Shura said, motioning Mikail over.

You have no hold over him, Mikail reminded himself as he glanced at the exit through which Tanea and Nathaneel had just left.  In spite of himself, jealousy niggled at the back of his mind.  He brushed it aside and, reaching Shura and the others, nodded to acknowledge them.

“Your majesty.” Shura motioned to his companions.  “You remember Councilman Seri and Councilwoman Trian, of course.”

“Lady Trian, Lord Seri, I’m glad to see you both well.” Mikail forced himself to focus once more on the important at hand—convincing the council members of the need to see justice done and to appoint a new provincial governor for Talaska with all due haste.


Having reassured himself that Mikail was well-guarded in his absence, Nathaneel led Tanea out into the courtyard. The night was warm, and the faint scent of jonquils wafted toward them from the formal gardens beyond. Tanea stopped near the marble fountain, lacing her arms through Nathaneel’s so that the front of her shoulder rested softly against his chest. He looked at her neck, admiring how her long, dark hair was coiled artfully at the nape.

“Shaeran is beautiful,” she remarked as she gazed across the gardens to the city beyond. The castle was situated on the highest hill in the city—a strategic advantage, and one that afforded an excellent view of the rooftops and streets below.

“I have always thought so.”  He wasn’t looking at the city.  He couldn’t keep his eyes off the smooth skin of her shoulder.  Ever since he’d seen, he’d been drawn to her.  He’d never been as attracted to a woman before.  Perhaps it was their common heritage. Or perhaps it was her confident beauty.  Still, he was at a loss to understand it.

“Do you remember much about Moren?” Tanea asked, bringing him back to himself.

“Very little, I’m afraid,” he replied, “although I stayed there for a few days after the war.” He remembered little of that time, either—it had been after he and Mikail had left the Shedim enclave, and he’d been concerned with nothing but Mikail’s safe return to the capital. He’d been beside himself with fear for Mikail’s sanity.  The last thing he’d thought about were the surroundings.

“Moren is different from Shaeran.” She lifted her head and breathed in the night air. “Wilder. Less… civilized.”

“And you prefer it?” he asked with a smile.

“I think you might prefer it as well, Captain,” she answered, her back still to him

The silken wrap she wore over her shoulders dipped downwards on her back, revealing the low-cut back of her dress. There, running down her spine, Nathaneel saw the faint outline of markings that appeared to grow darker with each passing moment. Instinctively, he reached to touch them. She shivered at the touch and Nathaneel knew he not only wanted her, he must have her. She turned and gazed at him. Her eyes were silver.

“What are you?” he whispered.  Unable to control himself, he put his hand to her cheek and ran his thumb against her smooth skin.

“You know what I am,” she replied, taking his hand from her face and licking it.  He gasped and feared he might lose control. “I am like you. But you deny your dual existence. You deny yourself far too much…”

He claimed her lips—an impulsive act—as though another man inhabited his own skin and urged him on. She responded with equal fervor, and his body warmed as if a fire had been lit within. She pulled her hair loose of its fastenings, allowing it to fall over her shoulders in waves. Without hesitation, He grabbed a handful of her dark tresses and pulled, eliciting a groan from her which made him feel dizzy, weak.

“What are you?” he repeated, although he couldn’t hear himself speak the words. It was as if he were falling into a deep pit of lust. His brain felt muddled, his body heavy.  Hungry. What is happening to me?He heard a low growl and realized it had issued from his own lips. She pulled off his cloak and ran her hands beneath his heavy tunic. The edges of his vision blurred and darkened. He felt himself falling into an abyss of pleasure, then knew no more.


Chapter Seven: Precipice

After enduring a dull conversation about grain prices in the far provinces, Mikail extricated himself from Shura and the council members by dancing with several eligible women. He carefully maneuvered his way farther and farther across the dance floor until he was finally able to make his apologies and slip out of the ballroom unnoticed by Nathaneel’s guards.

Mikail could only guess where Nathaneel and Tanea had gone.  He stopped at the entrance to the courtyard a few minutes later and wondered what he would say when he found Nathaneel. Undoubtedly, Nathaneel would be angry he’d managed to elude the guards. Mikail could live with that ire.  He couldn’t live without knowing Nathaneel’s intentions toward Tanea.

You’re jealous. As if this was a surprise!  He knew he had no right to be jealous. He had no claim to Nathaneel.  He has a right to be happy.  Shura was right.  As king, Mikail would need to take a bride if only to produce the heirs his people expected.  And although it was not unheard of for a king to take a man as a consort, without children to succeed him, such a union would hardly be acceptable to his people.

The courtyard was empty, silent but for the sound of the water from the fountain. Mikail strode across the gravel toward the entrance to the gardens. There, lying on the top of a hedge dotted with fragrant white flowers, he saw a filmy shawl—the same shawl Tanea had been wearing earlier. Without hesitation, he opened the garden gate and walked through. They were here.  Hhe was sure of it.

He walked through a small garden planted with herbs and flowers, then through another iron gate and into the informal gardens he preferred. He kept to himself amongst the trees, hidden from the guests who strolled the stone footpaths, finally coming upon the more secluded portion of the grounds where he and Samael had made passionate love only the night before. He saw no other visitors here, but noticed bits of color on the grass ahead: clothing.  He’d half expected it, yet it disturbed him more than he cared to admit.

You’re a fool, he told himself, knowing he didn’t want to see what he knew he must see. And so he walked on, the muscles in his abdomen tightening with each step, compelled to continue, knowing all too well what he would find beyond the secluded grove of flowering cherry trees.

He came upon them an instant later, lying naked on the grass, their bodies joined, moonlight making the sweat upon their skin glisten like small diamonds. Tanea, on top, threw back her head and growled as her long black hair flew about her. Her back was arched to reveal a series of markings down her spine—markings just like those Mikail had seen on Samael. Samael’s silver eyes sparkled with lust as he clasped Tanea’s buttocks roughly, digging long fingernails into the soft flesh there.

Mikail stood rooted to the spot, not wanting to watch yet entranced by their rhythmic movements. He’d never felt such heated jealousy. Anger, too, for Samael’s betrayal. That Mikail himself had shared his body with others mattered little; he couldn’t control the raw emotion that held his heart and mind captive. He clenched his fists at his sides and his jaw tightened. And yet he continued to watch, feeling his own lust grow even as his anger threatened to overwhelm him.

The dull ache in his chest intensified. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, and knowing that he had no right to complain, he turned and walked back to the castle. Perhaps he would confront Samael later, but he could not now find it within himself to do so. To confront Samael here and now would only confirm his weakness and give Samael more power over his heart. Still, he could not bring himself to return to the celebration; he was far too distracted and too exhausted to pretend otherwise.

By the time he reached the private entrance to the wing that housed his rooms, Mikail had all but resolved that he would not interfere in Nathaneel’s personal life—he had no right. He walked silently up the stairs, the thought of his warm but empty bed appealing in spite of his simmering jealousy. He reached the hallway to his rooms and paused to rub his eyes. He saw a shadow dance on the wall.  He turned, expecting to see one of Nathaneel’s guards standing there. Instead, saw a man wearing a dark mask that obscured all but his eyes. Mikail reached for his sword, but found only the dull ceremonial blade at his side. It would have to do.

The masked man pulled a dagger from his belt and lunged for Mikail’s chest. Mikail turned, his soldier’s instincts taking over. The blade made contact with the thick velvet of Mikail’s jacket, slicing the fabric but not reaching his skin. Mikail kicked the man, sending him stumbling backward against the wall, then swung his dull-edged sword. The weapon caught the edge of the man’s tunic, barely tugging at the fabric. His opponent laughed, perhaps realizing that Mikail was, for all intents and purposes, unarmed.

Over his shoulder, Mikail saw a second shadow against the wall. Another one?  With Mikail momentarily distracted, his assailant grabbed him by the shoulder and aimed his dagger once more at his heart. Using the sword to block the attack, Mikail parried too late. The knife plunged deep into Mikail’s belly, causing him to stagger backward. Mikail pressed his hand against the wound.  His sword landed on the floor with a clatter.  He coughed and tasted blood.

Time to die.  Mikail could do nothing to stop it.  He was unarmed and gravely wounded.  He would die even if his attacker did nothing.  He fell to his knees as he fought to stay conscious.  He waited for the strike that would end his life, knowing it would come.  He thought of Nathaneel.  He’d expected to die in battle years before, but Nathaneel had saved him.  Now, Nathaneel would blame himself for his death.  Mikail hated himself for causing Nathaneel such grief when the fault was his own.  Forgive me.

The final blow did not come.  Instead, Mikail saw Samael appear from the shadows and grab one of the attackers around the shoulders. Samael gave a sharp twist to the man’s neck, then dropped his body unceremoniously on the floor.  The second man lay there, already dead.

“You really are quite stubborn,” said Samael with a shake of his head. “And here I’d been enjoying my evening.”

Mikail opened his mouth, but his retort came out as a strangled moan.  He clutched his belly, felt the warmth of his own blood on his hands, then pitched forward.  Samael caught him as he collapsed.


Chapter Eight: Aftermath

Mikail heard voices at the edge of the filmy veil of unconsciousness. He hovered in a half-dozing state, aware of the sounds around him, yet unable to respond or open his eyes. All around him the music of the forest sang, the green of the trees and the grass reminding him of the high mountains where he and Nathaneel had sought refuge years before. He imagined the Shedim, their beautiful skin shimmering in the moonlight. He imagined he saw Samael embrace Nathaneel, the merge into one being.

Nathaneel’s voice, commanding and stern, echoed through the forest of his dreams. “Post two guards at the doorway to his chambers and at the end of the corridor. Another two on the landings of the stairs on either side of the wing. Weapons at the ready. We cannot be sure the assassins won’t try again.”

“Yes, sir!” came the brisk response.

The forest around him faded, and Mikail became aware of the sound of birds chirping outside of his window. A gentle breeze caressed his brow. He inhaled the fresh air; it reminded him of the gardens and of Samael. Why did everything remind him of Samael? Someone tucked a blanket around him and he faded back into the blanket of unconsciousness once more.

“How is he?” Nathaneel’s voice, his tone softer, concerned.

“I’m at a loss to explain it,” replied a woman, whose voice Mikail did not immediately recognize. “The wound has almost entirely healed. I see no sign of internal bleeding. At this rate, he’ll be able to resume his duties in a day, perhaps less.”

“How is this possible?” Nathaneel asked.

“I truly don’t know, my lord. It’s a miracle he survived at all. But as quickly as the wound has healed… I cannot understand it.”

“Thank you, Bereata. I’m sure your ministrations have done much to speed his healing. Regardless of how such a thing is possible, I’m greatly relieved to hear it,” Nathaneel replied.

Bereata, the healer. Mikail knew her well. She’d ministered to his father before his death.

“But you know nothing of this, my lord?” Bereata persisted. “I was told you were the one who summoned the guards. Certainly, you must—”

“I know nothing.” Mikail thought Nathaneel’s tone sounded defensive. “I had only come from escorting a guest through the gardens when I found him like this, lying upon the bed.”

“Of course, my lord.” Mikail heard the rustle of Bereata’s skirts. “I’ll wait outside in the antechamber, if you need my services.”

“Thank you.”

This interchange was followed by the sound of footsteps on the stone floor, a closing door, and a deep sigh. Then, after a few minutes, the words, “Forgive me, Mikail.”

Struggling to respond, but finding he could not, Mikail succumbed again to the warmth and comfort of the darkness.


Mikail opened his eyes. The intense sunlight obscured his vision as he tried to focus on the figured seated near him.


“Nathaneel.” His voice sounded rough and strange to his ears. His throat felt dry, his tongue thick and sluggish.

“Thank goodness.” Nathaneel let out a long sigh and shook his head. “Mikail… your majesty… I thought…”

Mikail’s eyes began to adjust to the light and he realized he was in his own bedroom. Nathaneel stood at the side of the bed and gazed down at him, green eyes dark and wide with emotion. Mikail sat up and pulled the covers off. He’d expected to feel pain when he moved, but there was none.

“You should lie back down.” Nathaneel sat on the bed and put his hands on Mikail’s shoulders to steady him. As always, the touch left Mikail feeling ill at ease. Hungry.

“I’m fine.” Mikail pulled the covers off and lifted his tunic to expose his abdomen. An angry red welt above the waist of his silk night clothes was all that remained of the place where the knife had entered his body. He ran his fingers over the scar, but felt no pain.

He knew the Shedim possessed the ability to heal, but he could hardly speak of it to Nathaneel. Samael had saved his life, of this he was sure. “How long have I been unconscious?”

“About nine hours.” Judging by the exhaustion in his voice, Mikail guessed Nathaneel had not left his side in all of that time.

Nine hours? And yet his wound looked to be weeks old.

“I don’t know what happened or how to explain it.” Nathaneel looked away, as though he were ashamed. “I found you here… I’d been dancing. I remember drinking some wine, and….” Mikail noted the slight pink of the his cheeks as he said this. “When I found you, your wound had been cleaned and your clothes changed. My men found a body in the hallway. We believe it was one of Lurent’s men, although we have yet to prove the connection.”

“I was attacked on my way back to my rooms. Someone came to my aid, although I don’t know who he was.” A lie, of course, but what else could he say?

“I failed you, your majesty,” Nathaneel said in a somber voice. His expression was guarded, as always, but his eyes shone with guilt.

“This wasn’t your fault, Nathaneel. You did nothing wrong. On the contrary, I’m the one who took chances. I chose not to heed your warnings.”

Nathaneel relaxed visibly with this words, although the strain of the past few hours still haunted his features. “You must promise to allow me to protect you,” he said, almost apologetically.  “I realize it’s not my place to exact such a promise from you, but—”

“Yes. I promise.” Mikail resisted the temptation to touch Nathaneel’s face and reassure him that he meant what he said.

Nathaneel’s expression brightened. “Thank you.”

“And what of the Council?”

“They’ve decided to postpone the meeting for several months.” Nathaneel stood and smoothed his wrinkled jacket. “They wish to investigate more fully any connection between the attack against you and Governor Lurent. I’ve confined all of his delegation for the time being.”

“Good.” Mikail hoped the attempt on his life would serve to galvanize the sentiment of the Council in his favor. He could wait to see Lurent pay for his crimes. “Please ask Advisor Shura to speak with each of his delegation to determine where their loyalties lie. Tell him I will await his assessment of the situation tomorrow evening.”

“Of course, majesty.”

“We can discuss your concerns regarding Talaska over dinner tonight. No doubt there are those in Talaska who will not take kindly to these new accusations.”

“I’ve already ordered several more detachments to secure the capital city,” Nathaneel said as he ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “They will assist the local authorities who are loyal to the crown to keep the peace.”

“Good.” At least the situation in the province was a least temporarily in hand. “Oh, and Nathaneel?” Mikail forced a smile.

“Yes, your majesty?”

“Get some sleep. You look terrible.”

“But your majesty—”

“I promise I will do nothing to keep your men from doing their work.” When Nathaneel hesitated, Mikail added, “Please, Nathaneel. We will speak over dinner, when we’ve both rested.”

“Of course, your majesty.” Nathaneel bowed low. Mikail watched as Nathaneel left the room. He doubted Nathaneel would rest. He leaned back against the pillows and sighed as the healer returned, looking quite pleased to see him awake. Mikail allowed the woman to poke and prod at him.

This cannot continue. I must tell him the truth, before he learns of it himself. He deserves to hear it from me. He’d tell Nathaneel about Samael that evening over dinner. He would do this for his friend, the man he loved.


Chapter Nine: Truth in the Dark


“Damn you,” Mikail growled, faced with a pair of silver eyes instead of green. “You knew what I intended to do tonight.”

“I guessed.” Samael entered Mikail’s chamber without hesitation. He smelled of the gardens and of musk, and he wore the trousers of Nathaneel’s uniform with his shirt untucked, the collar open to reveal his satiny skin. “I wanted to taste you before you let him in on our little secret.” He brushed his lips over Mikail’s. “Unless you’d rather I leave.” His hand rubbed against Mikail’s groin, where Mikail was already hard in anticipation.

“No,” Mikail gasped.

“Good.” Samael licked Mikail’s lips and pressed his tongue into Mikail’s mouth, probing until he elicited a moan. “You missed me, then,” he said after he released Mikail, giving him no time to answer before biting Mikail’s lower lip. Three days had been far too long. Mikail knew Samael felt the same, although Samael seemed determined not to cede any of his power.

It ends tonight. No more lies.

“Why are you gloating?” Samael tilted his head to one side and the edges of his mouth quirked upward.

“I’m not gloating,” Mikail snapped.

Samael untied Mikail’s cotton trousers and grabbed his erection in his inhumanly long fingers. Mikail hissed his response. “You thought I’d return to your bed sooner, didn’t you?” Samael pushed Mikail’s clothing down, revealing Mikail’s bare buttocks and digging his long fingernails into the hard muscle of Mikail’s ass.

“I said only that you would return when you wished.”

“Of course.” Samael laughed and tossed his head back so that his black hair glinted with the light from the fire. “You never did say you wanted me. How convenient.”

Mikail grabbed Samael’s wrist and twisted it, pulling the him closer. “I do not wish to talk, demon.”

“Is that so?” Samael he licked the sensitive spot beneath Mikail’s ear. “Do you want me to do to you what I did to her?” Mikail gritted his teeth. “That’s it then,” Samael laughed again. “You’re jealous. Did you like what you saw last night? Did it make you desire me more, Micah?”

Mikail twisted the demon’s wrist further back. It was a useless gesture—the demon was far stronger than he and could easily escape his grip—but it gave Mikail satisfaction. “Take your clothes off,” Mikail demanded and he stood and pushed Samael off of him.

“As you wish, your majesty.” Samael he shed his clothes, then traced a line down his chest, pausing at the thatch of dark hair and the base of his rigid cock. “You desire me.”

“Yes.” What harm was there in the admission? Soon the deception would be over. Mikail stood and slipped off his own shirt. He ran his fingers through dark hair like the finest silk, pulling slightly to elicit a low moan from his lover. “I waited for you to come to my room,” he whispered. “I waited for you to come,” he whispered. “Why have you stayed away?”

“I come to you when I desire it. I answer to no one, not even to the King.”

“And if the King were to order you to his bed?” Mikail fought the urge to scrape his fingernails over Samael’s smooth skin just to see how it might redden with his touch. No. He would not mar that perfect skin. Not yet, at least. He would appreciate the pale beauty of it first, taste each pink nipple in turn, then mark Samael as his own.

“What difference would it make if the King himself commanded me?” Samael’s eyes shone silver in the dim light of the fireplace as he laughed. “I told you—I do what I wish, when I wish. Does this trouble you, Mikail?”

“No,” Mikail lied. “There are others willing to share my bed, even if you are not.” But none I desire as I desire you.

“Indeed.” Samael traced his tongue in lazy circles around Mikail’s nipple, pulling on it with his teeth until it pebbled. “And yet none of them please you as I do, do they, your majesty?” Mikail’s answer was a muffled gasp as Samael pushed him back on the bed. Samael took Mikail’s cock deep into his mouth.


Samael released Mikail from his mouth and ran his fingers over on Mikail’s chest, then clasped his nipples and twisted them until Mikail could do nothing but grit his teeth and grab the sheets with hands. “You need this, don’t you, Mikail?” He laughed again, then claimed Mikail’s lips and thrust his tongue into Mikail’s mouth. “You want me, don’t you? More than the others?”


“I remind you of him.” Samael cupped Mikail’s sac in his hands and rolled it about, then traced a finger back to find Mikail’s entrance. He did not press inside, but teased the opening until Mikail began to pant. “But you cannot possess him, can you? You fear what might happen if you were to let him know how you feel.”

“Fuck you. You know nothing of what I want.” More lies. No one understood what he wanted better than Samael. No one.

“Oh, but I do know. Let me show you, Mikail.” Samael guiding Mikail’s cock between his own tight buttocks. “Let me show you there is no one you desire more.”

Mikail cried out as he pressed into Samael’s tight heat. “You will not own me, demon,” he said as he thrust violently against Samael’s thighs. “You may try to possess me, but no one will own me.” He tightened his jaw as he inhaled the deep scent of desire—Samael seemed drenched in it—which just served to heighten Mikail’s hunger.

“But you are wrong.” Samael moved up and down in rhythm with Mikail’s lust, once more clasping Mikail’s nipples and pinching them to Mikail’s increasing moans. “You are already lost. You love him.”

“No.” The intensity of Mikail’s movements escalated with his anger to hear Samael’s words. “You’re mistaken.”

“You want me,” Samael mocked as Mikail’s cries of release echoed around the chamber, “but it is he who owns your soul.”

“No!” Mikail shouted this time, but the Shedim only laughed again.

“What truth will you tell him, Mikail?”

“I will tell him everything.” Mikail knew his words sounded empty, knew his resolved wavered. “I will show him my heart.”

“Indeed,” Samael replied. “And what if he rejects your affections and your truth? What then of your heart?” He spoke this last word as if it were a vile thing.

Samael’s words resonated somewhere deep within Mikail. For the first time, Mikail realized Samael was afraid. He’s afraid of what will become of him should Nathaneel learn the truth. Afraid he will cease to exist.

Did the demon have a heart? Mikail reached for Samael’s face and stroked his smooth cheek. “Do you love me, Samael?” he asked.

“Do I love you?” Samael’s expression changed as he appeared to consider the question. “I….” He pressed his hand over Mikail’s with surprising tenderness, then closed his eyes and inhaled audibly.

“What do you want from me?” Mikail pressed.

Samael opened his eyes. But instead of silver, his eyes were now a familiar green. Nathaneel’s eyes. Mikail’s breath caught in his throat.

“M-Mikail?” Nathaneel frowned, as if trying to understand what was happening. He glanced around the room, then pulled away from Mikail. The look on his face was one of horror.


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