Chapter 9 - When Metal Meets Sand
When Metal Meets Sand
Something was wrong. He felt it in his bones but he couldn’t move a single muscle as he slipped in and out of consciousness. It took some time until he recognized the sounds of hurrying footsteps and hushed whispers. They weren’t talking to him. They were talking over his head. A strange lifting motion made him realize that he was being adjusted in someone’s arms as he was carried somewhere. He wanted to open his eyes to see where he was and who was carrying him, but his eyelids felt like lead.
“Cover his head,” the stranger’s voice seeped into Tommy’s mind and he felt that something was thrown over him. Probably a thin material.
Why did they want to cover his head? What was going on? And what were all the shouting in the distance about? He whimpered slightly as he was trying to fight his paralyzed muscles, willing them to obey him, but they still didn’t want to move. Tommy’s mind started to panic. What the hell? The panic and racing thoughts at least eased the haziness over his mind and he could think a little clearer. He tried to trace back what’d happened…
He woke with a bitch of a headache thanks to the drinks he had on the festivities. He had to think about something… figure out an important thing… What was it again? It made him feel guilty… he wanted to go see Adam afterwards. Adam! Yes, now he knew. He cheated on him with… Carlo. Carlo! Yes, he went to see Carlo and tell him that they could only be friends… he seemed to understand… then what happened exactly? They… shared a drink and that’s when he started to feel funny.
I was drugged!
The realization made his body jerk and the man carrying him cursed and readjusted him again.
“Did you give him enough? He’s starting to stir,” Tommy heard from above and he tried to get free. He didn’t know this man but the voice that answered him was way too familiar.
“Yes. He should be out cold and even if not, he won’t be able to get away. The herbs have a paralyzing effect on his muscles,” Carlo explained and suddenly Tommy felt anger boil in his blood.
What the hell?!
What was his ex-lover doing? Where were they taking him? Was this… No, it couldn’t be a kidnapping! Why would they do that? And what the hell was all the noise about? It got louder and terrified Tommy’s mind when he finally understood what he was hearing: screaming and metal meeting metal. Who was fighting? Why were they fighting?!
Tommy heard people running nearby but it seemed no one wanted to stop them. Where they sneaking through the shadows? The young king wanted to scream and shout to make the guards, people, anyone notice them. He wanted to cry for Adam’s help. He would surely come if he could just make his vocal chords work! He’ll save him, stop Carlo and this unknown man to take him wherever they were headed.
The yellow and red colors he saw through his closed eyelids worried Tommy too. He could hear and feel the heat of fire too. The sharp smell of smoke filled his nose and he could nearly see the city in flames. This beautiful city, his new home. Will it be okay? Will the people be okay? It was obvious they were being under attack. Who was the enemy? The southern kingdoms’ men? Was Carlo taking him to them or did he have another goal?
He wanted to ask him, to shout at him. He collected all of his strength and slightly jerked in the bigger man’s arms. It took him by surprise and he nearly lost his balance. Tommy felt the cover partly slip off his face and finally he managed to open his eyes a little. It was as he feared. The city was burning at parts and people were fighting all around.
“Adam…” he managed to whisper although he saw only guards fighting rough looking men. “Adam!” he repeated a little louder as he took a glimpse of black hair and a fierce pair of blue eyes through the fire. Maybe it was just his imagination. He didn’t know and couldn’t decide while he was being carried towards the river and the docks.
“He’s coming around, Carlo,” the big man warned the traitor he used to call his friend and lover.
“We’re nearly at the ship,” he said over the noise of fighting.
Why didn’t anyone notice them?! Tommy had to do something before they reached that ship they were talking about. He had to prevent them from taking him to gods know where! He squirmed again despite the stronger hold around his slim body. He was lucky because the guy stumbled and had to go down on one knee not to drop him while regaining his balance. Tommy’s muscles still felt like lead but at least he had a little control over them by then. He squirmed as best as he could and ignored the cursing of the stranger. He was so close to get free, but he forgot about Carlo.
Big mistake, he thought as suddenly pain exploded at the back of his head and his barely regained vision and consciousness blurred and once more gave way to empty darkness.
Adam was standing in one of the higher terraces of the palace. He rested his bandaged hand on the stone balustrade while looking over the city. The new ugly black scars of Oudjat were still smoking here and there but luckily the people managed to stop the fire before it could do more damage. The young king turned his face, revealing a small healing cut from the line of his thick eyebrow down to his left temple. If he was lucky it wouldn’t scar. But that wasn’t his biggest concern at the moment.
“You wanted to see me?” his brother Neil asked as he walked closer. He didn’t look better either. He had a bruise on his cheek and on numerous parts of his body, but he didn’t seem to care as he was focused on his older brother. This time the constant sarcasm was missing from his face and was replaced by something that resembled worry.
“Yes…” Adam managed to grit through his teeth. He was still angry and hurt and the feeling of betrayal was pounding in his chest like poison.
“What’s that?” Neil asked. As usual, he had a good eye for details and he noticed the crumpled paper under Adam’s healthy left hand.
As an answer his brother handed him the paper that appeared to be a letter. Neil frowned and opened it to be able to read it.
“My dear husband,
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t pretend to be happy on your side anymore. My heart always belonged to another and during the festivities that man came back into my life, heart and bed. So I decided to go with him and let you move on with your life too and find a king who fits you better than me. I can only hope you won’t hate me and my country too much.
“What the flying fuck?!” Neil burst out and looked up at his brother clearly shocked. “Did Tommy write this?”
“It was intended to make me believe that.”
“But you don’t.”
“No,” Adam snorted shaking his head and he glimpsed at the crumpled papyrus as if it was something he could kill with a look. “First of all, he never called me ‘my dear husband’, second, it’s clearly a forgery. It’s not his handwriting. I saw that in person while we were dealing with the kingdoms’ issues. Thirdly, he is just not that good of an actor. That’s not what I saw when I last looked into his eyes. And he would never do this to his own country either.”
“What are you saying then? And who’s that man the letter mentions? Any ideas?” Neil’s frown deepened and it was clear that he was already thinking hard on the possibilities what might be going on.
“I think someone wants me to believe that Tommy cheated on me and ran off with that guy… I’m sure that violinist, Carlo. Tommy mentioned that he knew him from back home. He was his guitar teacher or something.”
“Maybe he was more and he really ran off with him and asked someone to write this letter in his name…” Neil suggested.
“No. I don’t believe Tommy’d be capable of cheating on me and leaving like this. Like a coward. He’s not a coward. I think it’s a trick. Don’t you think it’s suspicious that this happened during the festivities and on the exact night when our city was attacked by the southerners?” he looked up into his brother’s dark eyes. “Our family doesn’t believe in coincidences, remember?”
“But you still have doubts…” Neil said after studying his brother’s familiar face. Even as children he could tell when Adam lied or doubted himself or when one of Neil’s sarcastic remarks got to him. That ability of his was still working after all those years.
“Maybe…” he sighed turning back to the city and fisted both his hands, ignoring the slight pain in his bandaged right one. It was cut during the fights when they were defending the city against the enemy that seemed to appear from thin air. They knew it wasn’t possible and that probably they snuck in through the gates in disguise among the people who came to the harvest festivities.
“And why is that? Because he didn’t like the idea of arranged marriage? I know about that, but you think he was unhappy on your side?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so…”
“Adam… brother,” Neil said stepping next to him and he squeezed the slightly taller king’s shoulder “one only have to look at you and they can see that you both are in love with each other. It’s as clear as the midday sun.”
“You really think so? You think Tommy feels the same towards me as I feel about him?” Adam asked trying to appear calm, but the hope was clear in his eyes. From that Neil knew that his brother and the blonde didn’t get to confess their feelings yet.
“Yes,” he nodded confidently. “He likes it here. And if you say that this letter is forgery then we shall talk to father and discuss this matter. He always gives good advice.”
“You must be right. I’m worried about him. It’s been two days and the guards couldn’t find him anywhere. Tommy’s not here in Oudjat and I fear the worst…”
“We’ll find out the truth soon enough, brother. Until then we have to focus on rebuilding the city and triple the guards as it seems doubling them wasn’t enough. We can’t afford to lose more men.”
“Yes. And I’ll have to send word to the Sea too about what happened here. They should prepare. War is coming nearer.”
“Did you pray to the gods?” Neil asked as they headed back into the palace. For a second his eyes skipped up to the dome of the temple then back to his brother’s profile.
“Not yet. But I’ll do a ritual tomorrow night,” he answered quietly, his eyes fixed on the smooth marble under their feet.
“You do that brother. Maybe they’ll guide your… our way,” he frowned lightly and saw Adam nod.
The older brother really hoped they would help light his way to see clearer.
Tommy slowly woke with a moan as the back of his head was throbbing painfully. For a minute he had no idea what had happened or where he was. Or why his whole world was rocking. It was dark and the air smelled damp and salty. Once his head wasn’t spinning so much he finally realized that he was in the belly of a ship. How the hell did he get there?!
It brought back memories of his childhood and early teenager years when he used to go on trips or fishing on the sea. Now the situation was far from those pleasant occasions. As he sat up on the uncomfortable sack barely filled with hay he heard the rattle of chains. It was attached to a shackle around his ankle. He reached down in the darkness and traced it with his fingers. It was tight and already started irritating his sensitive skin.
Where were they taking him? What were Carlo and that big guy thinking kidnapping him like this? To what end? Judging by the shouts coming from above on a different language, Tommy had a good and scary guess where they were headed. It wasn’t really cold but he was shaking, his teeth rattling as he pulled his legs up and hugged his knees to his chest. That cold came from the inside and maybe he had a mild concussion from the hit to his head.
As his fingers traced the ugly bump by his nape he didn’t feel any blood on his fingers, but his eyes still rounded in the dark. He didn’t care about the dim outlines of objects he could make out. He was thinking about the circumstances of his kidnapping. Oudjat was clearly attacked… There were fights and fire… Just how many of their attackers could get inside? Did the Sand manage to fight back? To protect the city against the sneaky and cowardly attack? He knew that there were casualties, but he had no idea just how big that number was. Did Adam survive? And Neil? And everyone else whom Tommy closed into his heart?
An ugly feeling made his stomach flip again and his headache got worse when he thought about the possibility that everyone was dead. Would his homeland be next? He couldn’t bear that thought either… He could see the castle by the Sea in flames with everyone dead too clearly. He barely had time to crawl as far as his chains let him to retching into a corner. The smell just made him puke harder until only dry heaving and a bitch of a headache was left. He hated the bitter taste of bile in his mouth. He spit a few times and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before he crawled back on the sack. He sighed and leaned back against the side of the ship behind him, closing his eyes. What was he going to do now?
What if everyone was dead and no one would come to free him? He has to come up with a plan and quickly. He won’t let his kidnappers break his will. But first he had to learn his intentions. If he was lucky, maybe he could talk some sense into Carlo. After all once they were close. He had no idea what made him change like this… The little shit laced his drink with something and kidnapped him! Tommy never would’ve thought he was capable of doing something like this to him.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ignore the throbbing of his head. He should try to sleep and regain his strength while he could. He knew he’d need that.
The young king was awakened by a harsh kick in his ribs. It knocked the air out of his lungs. “What the hell?!” he groaned in pain and still half asleep. At least his headache lessened somewhat but it was still there. His mind though quickly woke from the unfamiliar hoarse chuckle above him. He looked up to see a dirty man. He was muscular and reeked of sweat. He was wearing only some brown and dirty baggy pants and a brown leather west. Sweat was glistening on his hairy chest and over his brows. The cruel smirk made Tommy uneasy as he prepared to duck the next kick if necessary.
“Get up, your highness! Your meal is served,” the man grumbled and dropped a piece of dry bread and a bowl of water in front of Tommy.
“Who are you and where are you taking me?” he demanded to know as he sat up, not caring that half of the water was spilled on the floor.
“That’s not my job to tell,” the guy snorted and was already on his way towards the door.
“It was you… You carried me out of Oudjat!” Tommy realized from the sounds of his heavy steps and the way he talked.
“Indeed. Now eat,” he instructed and banged the heavy door shut behind him.
Tommy could hear the key turn in the lock and then he was alone again. He looked at his poor excuse of a meal and sighed. He wanted to leave it untouched, fearing that it was laced with something again, but his stomach was grumbling and his mouth felt dry like the desert. With a resigned sigh and wondering if anyone would come to explain what the hell was going on, he reached for the rest of the water and forced himself to take just a little sip. After that he nibbled on the dry bread and tried to come up with a plan.
This small ritual was repeated twice each day. It was at least something to which Tommy could measure how much time had passed since he came around. During his captivity no one came to explain the situation to him. The only change he could faintly sense was the quality of air. It was still hot but it got filled with the smell of ash. First he thought there was a fire somewhere, bringing back the memory of a burning Oudjat in his mind, but then he realized it was normal there as no one from the crew yelled about it to warn the others. This air scratched the back of Tommy’s throat but he tried not to cough.
On the fifth day of his captivity the door opened again. He thought it was the grumpy man with some more food and water, but he wasn’t alone this time. Behind his wide shoulders Carlo stepped into the tiny room. Hot white rage surged up in Tommy and in the next second he was already on his feet, despite the throbbing in his head and his protesting muscles. He wanted to jump on the man he once called his lover to claw his eyes out or at least punch him good, but the shackle on his ankle stopped him and he nearly landed on the floor.
“Easy there, tiger!” Carlo chuckled and nodded to the big man to hold Tommy down. The prince now saw the ropes and something that appeared to be like a black sack.
“What the fuck are you doing, Carlo?! Where are you taking me and most importantly, why?!” Tommy shouted with rage.
“You’ll learn it soon enough. We arrived to our destination,” he sneered and looked at the big guy, completely ignoring Tommy’s fuming. “Tie his hands behind his back before you free his leg. He’s no stranger to fighting,” he warned the big guy who just grunted as an answer and in the next moment Tommy felt a strong grip immobilizing his hands. He tried to get free, but there was no use and it just made the ties cut into his wrists.
“Please, don’t do this, Carlo. This isn’t you… What did I do against you to deserve this?” Tommy looked back at the taller man.
“Shut the fuck up, Tommy. Apparently you know nothing. My motifs are my own. Now… since you reek so much first we’ll have to take you somewhere where we can clean you up. But we’ll keep everything a surprise,” he smirked unpleasantly and before Tommy could protest the sack was pulled over his head, preventing him from seeing anything.
Once again he could rely only on his other senses as he was pushed forward and up on the stairs. When he stumbled a rough hand of the big guy steadied him by his shoulder. He could tell he was led off the ship to a noisy harbor. He could hear people chatting around and some even made funny remarks about him and his company. He ignored that. He could smell the ash in the air more and a low grumbling could be heard from the distance. Was it coming from the depths of the earth? He couldn’t tell exactly, but it felt like that. And if they were where he suspected they were then it made sense to believe so.
The walk to the place where he was led to clean up wouldn’t have been too long, but his muscles were weak and trembling from the lack of moving around in his prison. But soon he was pushed through a door. The heat wasn’t that bad inside and then the sack came off his head and he could look around. It was a simple house. He was standing in the middle of a bathroom chamber. For a second he looked longingly at the pool sunk into the floor as it was filled with fresh water, but his attention was drawn back to the big guy and Carlo when the latter started talking.
“Don’t even dream of trying to escape. We have guards everywhere,” he warned as big guy freed Tommy’s wrists.
The blond man rubbed them with a neutral face. He knew Carlo was right. They’d probably kill or at least beat him for any attempt.
“Take off your clothes and get into the water. Wash yourself clean. You have five minutes,” Carlo said on an emotionless voice.
Tommy felt uncomfortable under their gazes, but he obeyed. What else could he have done? Besides he craved to feel a bit cleaner. He let his dirty clothes fall on the floor and took off his light shoes too. A maid came and took them quickly. Tommy followed Carlo’s gaze which fell on the healing bruising on his ribs where big guy kicked him a few days ago. They didn’t say anything though and to make himself less uncomfortable the young king quickly dove into the water. It’s amazing how a simple thing like this could lift someone’s spirit in such a situation. He found soap and a wash cloth on the edge of the pool and he quickly got to work.
Once his hair and body was as clean as possible in the given circumstances he looked up at the two men. The previous girl was standing next to them. Tommy knew she was a slave because of the thick leather collar with an iron ring on the front and the simple clothes she was wearing. That, and the way she averted her eyes. She was holding a simple black tunic on her arm and matching sandals in one hand.
“Stop daydreaming and let her dress you!” Carlo snorted and once again Tommy had no other choice than to obey while he swore vengeance against his kidnappers. Soon he was dressed in the foreign clothes and although this tunic was longer, it bothered and maybe worried him a bit that he got no undergarment. He really hoped they just forgot, but he didn’t dare to draw their attention to that.
Wrists tied together behind his back, sack on his head and they were already on their way again. This walk was longer than the previous one and by the time they entered a place which felt huge and much cooler even without his sight, Tommy felt a thin layer of sweat form on his skin again. His senses were so focused on collecting information from his surroundings that first he was a little surprised when suddenly the sack was pulled off his head and he was roughly pushed forward. He lost his balance before he could take a glimpse around and his knees made painful and bruising contact with the hard stone floor underneath. Somehow he managed not to fall further forward so he looked up just from kneeling. It was humiliating enough this way too.
From one glace he knew he was in a palace, kneeling at the first of the stone stairs which led up to the main throne. A very muscular and very bald man with cruel black eyes and grayish black beard was sitting on it. Tommy saw an old scar cross his broad and hairy chest as he wasn’t wearing anything on his upper body except some kind of a pendant on a black leather stripe. He had black loose pants tucked into soft black leather boots. A dark smile was playing on his thin lips as he watched Tommy, who jerked his head to the side to make his long fringe fall out of his eyes while he was fighting an uneasy feeling.
“King Thomas Joe Ratliff,” Carlo started mockingly “meet Captain Vito, the ruler of the Land of the Volcanoes…”