The ecstasy of his release was much needed. Koston’s breath escaped him as he pulled himself out of his younger lover and took to the pillows beside him, drenched in his own musky sweat.
Damien rolled onto his back, smiling from ear to ear. “Good gods that was extraordinary!”
Koston agreed and went back to staring at the windows of Damien’s home. Black curtains were draped over the already closed blinds. The younger man’s bedroom door was locked, and his front door was bolted shut upon Koston’s arrival. He told Damien that it was the only way he would come by, to which Damien rolled his eyes and reminded the captain that he knew the drill.
The young man draped a hand across Koston’s chest, swirling a finger around the patch of fur between his pecks. He then cuddled up beside the captain’s shoulder and wrapped himself in Koston’s nook. “Tell me,” He said, “you’ll still be able to visit even after you become the queen’s adviser, won’t you?”
Koston remained flat on his back and stared at the white ceiling and the covered skylight. He let his thoughts run adrift, forgetting that Damien asked him a question.
Damien’s hazel eyes glossed over Koston’s muscular frame, taking mental pictures of his physique for those times when Koston couldn’t be around. He licked his lips seductively, coyly trying to get an answer out of him. “I know it will be more difficult for you, but I promise I’ll make it worth it.”
But Koston’s thoughts already returned elsewhere. He and his son would travel to Kalia in the morning to visit his cousin, Queen Justine. His inauguration party was to begin the day after he returned home to Cardeau. He would no longer be Captain: a position he would’ve gladly retired from. The men of the Donnick family were blessed with too much wealth and influence to grasp their dreams and hold onto them.
His lover rolled away from him and sat up in his bed. Koston paid him attention at last, but it was too late.
“Damien, I’m sorry.”
Damien’s head slid back toward Koston’s direction just enough for the captain to see his sly smile. “You have no reason to be sorry. I know why you come here, and in all of the years that you have, have I ever once misconstrued our relationship?”
Koston sat up and rested his back against the wobbly headboard. He eyed the edges of the bed as if the mattress was a raft floating adrift in poisoned waters.
Damien placed a consoling hand on his knee. “You are going to be an amazing adviser.”
Damien’s words fell deaf on Koston’s ears. His knights had been telling him the same thing ever since the announcement was made. People in the streets were already bowing to him and asking for autographs. The palace servants sometimes waited outside of his quarters to tell him how blessed they felt to wash his sheets and fold his clothes.
His young lover laughed. “I fear that I might not have done enough to satisfy you. You seem deeper in thought now than when you came in.”
“Stop apologizing—especially after that!” Damien placed a hand on his chest again. “My heart is still racing.”
Koston broke a smile.
“I, uh, I got a little something to show you my sign of support.”
Koston hid his grimace from Damien as his younger lover got out of bed wearing nothing but a sheet draped around his loins. Damien knelt toward the nightstand and grabbed the frame leaning against it. His lover held it against his chest, concealing it from him as if he was about to give him the gift of a lifetime. When he revealed it, it took every ounce of Koston’s strength not to cringe.
The frame portrayed not one image, but two. The picture on the left was of Abraham Donnick, Koston’s grandfather, who started out as an orphan and went on to become the Monarch Superior. History teachers taught children that Abraham Donnick prevented seven wars and helped the world become more prosperous than any other Superior in the last three centuries. Time would eventually tell an even more magnificent tale.
The image on the right was of Koston in his Captain’s uniform. People always told him that he looked just like his grandfather. In this pair of pictures, the resemblance was uncanny. They shared the same shoulder-length dirty blonde hair, the same noble brown eyes, and bore the same smile that made the world confident in their actions and feel safe in their care.
“The people of Cardeau—Gods, the people of Noreis all believe that you are the second coming of your grandfather. I’ve heard wishes and whispers of those longing for you to trace his footsteps for years. People talk about it in the streets, pray for it in the churches… They even speak of it in the brothels! You are going to be a great adviser, Koston,” Damien said, resting the dual picture on his nightstand. “I just hope you’ll still find time for me while you’re out there making the world a better place.”
Koston nodded, genuinely at a loss for words. He expected his knights, his servants, and Cardeau civilians to present him with tokens of their admiration. He wasn’t expecting it from his whore as well.
Captain Donnick’s momentary bliss was suppressed when he noticed the Queen’s missed messages. Her few choice words were frigid and severe. She was already angry with him for going to Kalia just before his inauguration. Arriving late to their meeting would be ill-received.
He rushed from Damien’s to the conference room without stopping at his quarters. Koston wanted his transition to be as peaceful as possible, but that would be up to the woman that was as wary of her choice of adviser as he was. Wary, but resolute.
Queen Kallisto wore her bright blue dress like a sheet of ice that shielded her from others. A younger woman would have worn the gown as a picture of elegance and beauty, but Kallisto traded such grace for a campaign that led to the crown. She absorbed the city-state’s stress and wrinkles, and when more was required, she donated her soul. Decades ago, Kallisto would have turned heads in that dress. Now men and women had to look beyond their cold visible breath when they dared to glance at her.
Her gown matched her icy eyes while platinum hair draped over her shoulders and rarely moved when she spoke. A white circlet was placed atop her head; her bangs were interwoven into it like snakes wrapping around it, squeezing the life out of the white leaves.
“I messaged you nearly an hour ago,” Kallisto said from the head of the table swirling a glass of schnapps in her hand.
Koston blushed and ran his fingers through his hair to make sure that no strands were out of place. He didn’t need Kallisto to know why he wasn’t answering her calls. “My apologies,” he said, taking a seat to the right of her. “What can I do for you, Your Highness?”
“I wanted to go over the seating chart for the inauguration dinner. Your vacation will occupy your time right up until the party,” she scathed. “But while Terrence and I were waiting for you, we did it ourselves. We also met to finalize the courses and the wine selection for the cocktail party afterward—all things that you were supposed to take care of a week ago.”
“I am sorry, my queen,” he said, lowering his head. “I’ve been busy working with Sir Poltowe. I want to ensure that he’s prepared to lead the Guard during this transition.”
“The Knights of Cardeau practically run themselves. Helping Sir Poltowe to develop marching patterns and writing tedious schedules is hardly at the top of your list of priorities. You will manage your time more wisely as my advisor. The right-hand seat cannot be occupied by another fool. Cardeau deserves far better.”
Thoughts of rolling around naked in the sheets with Damien became distant memories in her presence. One steely glare flushed all the joy within him. “I will learn, Your Highness.”
“You’ll have to. We have a lot to accomplish the moment that ceremony ends, from the second you say that oath until my throne is no longer challenged. I have no intention of being relieved of my title, and the very thought of losing it to Chiron Roltare—”
“It will not happen.”
Although the kings and queens of Noreis often served lifelong terms, many of the city-states placed limitations in their constitutions. If a monarch was deemed unfit to rule, or if there was enough apprehension about their ability to run a city-state with the people’s best interest in mind, a new leader could be elected in their place. Noreis’ people discovered long ago that allowing for special votes proved to be a much better solution than physically removing a monarch from office by execution or revolution.
District Representative Chiron Roltare had long been opposed to the queen’s actions and expressed interest in wanting to replace her. Cardeau needed a leader of Roltare’s caliber like it needed a viral case of the worms. Roltare’s opinions and policies went to the highest bidder. His stances changed as often as his investors, and he had little respect for the people he represented.
Kallisto wasn’t the most admirable leader to sit on Cardeau’s throne, but at least she kept her platform consistent. Even if she was about to run him ragged, he respected the woman she used to be—the woman that was there for his late wife in her most desperate time of need. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of that Kallisto; a glimmer of the philanthropic social worker that once gave girls a role model and aspired women to follow her path. That person was still there somewhere, hopefully.
“It sounds like most of the preparations for the inaugural ceremony are in order,” Koston said. “I met with Terrence the other day to discuss the oath and the closing party.”
“You did?” Kallisto said, defrosting a little. “He didn’t mention that.”
“You asked me to. I managed to find time in my busy schedule. I figured that, since I’m gone for the next few days, it would be one less thing on your very full plate.”
“Oh, Koston,” she simmered, “If you only knew how large that plate is.”
“I will soon. When I return we will work together, I will take on the duties that Adviser Tarkinson abandoned upon his resignation.”
Kallisto crossed one leg over the other. “Yes, and ensure that we avoid any further… scandals.”
“Scandal” is a polite word for what you did, my queen.
“Is there anything else you require of me?” he asked. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”
“Get some rest,” she said with a whisk of her hand. “I’ll see you in a few days.”
Koston didn’t waste his time trying to escape the queen’s conference room. The chills she emitted from her bittering presence were beginning to seep under his skin.
“Koston,” she said as he was halfway out the door.
Her breaths paralyzed his feet.
“Adjust your collar. I cannot have my future adviser looking like a whore… Or smelling like one, for that matter.”
Koston could think of no response. He kept walking, leaving the queen to her schnapps that kept plenty cold in the grasp of her fingers.