Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.
I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.
In this chapter, Willem is singled out for questioning.
This week I chose a picture prompt.
Sealed in Stone #31
Willem watched the corpse roll awkwardly on the steps, its progress halted by spears wedged into the body. Armor of coppery chitin, reddened by thick blood, hung in broken plates from the young queen’s torso. Blond hair wet with blood plastered her face and neck. She’d been pierced in the belly and ribs. When Willem looked up again, he saw Cyrrhi’s gaze fastened upon him.
“Unwise of you to speak, young human, but I will answer. You look upon Bekatti, my daughter and rival.”
Daughter. If nomari queens died by violence, it was at the hands of their blood kin. Willem wanted to look to Torrey, to ask him what he should do, even though he knew Torrey would not be allowed to tell him. He had to rely on his own instincts now. He closed his eyes in relief when he heard Torrey speak up beside him.
“No, I do not want your thoughts on this, my silk-tongued Chosen. Not this time.” Cyrrhi’s voice carried the sinister hum swarming bees within its dulcet tones. “I want this male you cherish to tell me what he knows.”
Oh fuck. It was on him now to save them? Willem swallowed fear. He opened his eyes again to those of the furious Queen and waited for her inquiry to land upon him.
“You are the only one I trust.” To Willem’s immense surprise, Cyrrhi spoke to him using the language of the kumbhs, not the slave form used by the nomari when speaking to humans. “I asked for you to be brought to my chamber, as a companion—and gift—to my Chosen. He concealed much of his longing, and he did not press for me to bring you. That was my idea alone. Neither he nor his kumbh could have foreseen I would ask for you.”
“I never foresaw it either.”
“But the Kumbharana Prim took you into her house.”
Her gaze was so damn unnerving, but Willem was too afraid of her to look away. “She knew Torrey would write to me. He was angry at her, but not me and”—he flushed—“I’m a laborer and my education was in that, not in words diplomats use.”
“Diplomats—and nomari mates?”
“I don’t know anything at all about either of those things. Only what Torrey tells me.”
“Did he tell you to fear me?”
“No, great Queen. The opposite.”
“Truly?” The reply apparently pleased her, because her tone warmed to him somewhat. “And what did the Kumbharana want of you?”
“To show her the letters Torrey wrote. She”—he hesitated, but decided he might as well crack that block. Maybe Cyrrhi needed to see what was inside—“she was proud, all of the kumbharani are, that you chose him. She thought him being yours”—he cursed his language did not possess the strong nomari honorific, because it was perfect for this thought—“made the kumbhs, all the kumbhs, not just ours, safer.”
“And you were a conduit?”
He nodded. “To him, yes. And from him. She wanted to know if you were unhappy, or angry, or going to change your policies toward the kumbhs—things like that.”
“Which is the function of a Chosen, to be an intermediary.”
“Yes, great Queen.” Willem sensed he was doing well. Beside him, Torrey knelt, still tense but no longer as taut as a drawn bow. His hands rested flat upon his bended knees.
“These females”—Cyrrhi pointed to the horrifically mutilated, displayed bodies of Shel and Lena—“when did they join you?”
She asked more questions, many more. Willem answered honestly, at least the ones he could answer. Lots of times he had to say he did not know. At one point a younger queen arrived with two warriors, who poured gold coins on the dais at the Queen’s feet before speaking to her. Cyrrhi pointed to the gold. “The other two females you mentioned have been found. They were butchered. And these coins were found hidden in the floor.”
The chill returned to Willem’s gut. Memories of Rue and Marda’s faces, the pools of blood, lingered just behind his eyes. “We never saw the gold and wouldn’t have wanted it if we did. We found the women dead and… we drank some water and ate some food. And put on these clothes because it was cold.”
“Why did you flee my chamber to that one?”
“We were drained, naked, without weapons. The warriors were flashing blades. Torrey said”—he stopped, but a command was born in Cyrrhi’s eyes, and he knew he must continue—“he said it wasn’t normal, for the warriors to run out like that, unless you were in danger. Hari had already attacked us and… we were scared, Torrey and me, and… Hari ran after the warriors, but we ran the other way. Torrey knew how to get to the secret chamber.”
Cyrrhi settled back in her throne, pondering his answers. Perhaps she was thinking of new questions.
“Ri’im are treacherous,” Sovesa said.
“Yes. But I do not think this one is. If there is treachery in this pair, it is that one.” Cyrrhi’s gaze moved to Torrey.
“His kumbh gambled on him and lost.”
“If so, he was a sacrifice. They did not know he, or this other one, would survive it. Kumbhs do not usually risk their pretty, highly trained sons in hopeless situations. Unless they had Bekatti’s promise to take him as hers.”
“Which is why he fled to what he thought was safety with the ri’im females.”
Willem’s mouth turned dry as hot stone. A quiet voice spoke up beside him.
“But who let Bekatti in?” Torrey no longer looked at the floor subserviently. Willem drew a ragged breath and hoped Cyrrhi would let him continue. “We fled. Two are dead in the secret chamber and these two”—he waved his hand at Shel and Lena—“were killed in your presence. So who let Bekatti into your chamber?”
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