A King Should Be Able to Connect with His People
Once, when Sam had been seven or eight, Saul had slipped some poison into his breakfast that had given him violent diarrhea for three days. When he’d been eight, Sarah had tied him to his bed and told him there was a venomous spider hidden somewhere in his room that would sense magic if he tried to use it. A little over a year ago Solomon had made Sam sit still for twenty hours while he tested out a spell, and then had made Sam do it all over again when he’d sneezed. A few weeks ago, Henry had put a collar on Sam and then raped him until he’d cried.
And despite all of that, Sam reflected, somehow what was happening to him right now was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.
“Feels nice, right?”
“Y-yes,” Sam said, with no idea what ‘nice’ felt like in this context. “Very solid.” He was wearing a weird ring on his hand. It was heavy.
“Pounded from iron mined up near Chavekma-Rashish,” the merchant told him. “The stone is from the Shen’keit Fissures—all made right here in Ech’kent.”
“I’ll take it,” Sam said, because what the hell else was he supposed to say? He didn’t care where the ring had been made. “And if you have others, with stones in different colours.” Apparently, he’d learned, it was important that the colours of things matched. Which meant that one ring wasn’t enough rings, because unbeknownst to Sam, his wardrobe contained clothing of many different colours.
“Right away, your Majesty,” the merchant said. “I’ll have them sent to the manor.”
“Thank you,” Sam said, turning and walk away from the stall. “How many more?”
“Only a few,” his companion said.
Sam sighed. This was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. An easy thing for him to do, according to Henry, was go shopping in Jdinrma-Hash’s market, spend a lot of money and, worst of all, be pleasant to people he’d rather dismember. So Sam was doing that. And it was terrible.
And as if it couldn’t get any fucking worse, Henry had fucking abandoned him here partway through. He’d stayed for the part where he’d stripped Sam to his smallclothes to be measured at a tailor’s, but then he’d headed off to be present in another part of the town, and left Sam on his own with a few guards and an idiot.
The idiot in question was a boy named Max, who Henry had found somewhere and paid to drag Sam around the market and interpret for him when shopkeepers tried to speak to him in Chez’n. He was friendly and he was obviously excited to be meeting a king, and Sam had wanted to feed him to Scott after five minutes in his company.
But he wasn’t allowed to do that. “The next one, then.”
“You’re super generous to shop at the market like this,” Max told him as he led Sam somewhere. “You’ve spent more money today than I’ve ever seen!”
“The crown’s money comes from taxation,” Sam told him, just wishing so badly that he could tell this idiot to shut up. But Henry had made the ‘be nice’ part of this excursion very clear. It was how to balance out destroying Endlyn. Be nice to the people who weren’t rebelling against him. “It’s only fair that some of it goes back to the people.”
“Yeah, but still. I guess I just thought that the Sorcerer King would be…” Max trailed off.
Sam smirked. “An evil monster who tortures people for fun and eats peasant boys for breakfast?”
“Well…yeah. I mean you hear things, and stuff. And Endlyn…but you’re actually really nice. Uh. Your Majesty.”
Sam tried not to sigh. “The people in Endlyn killed their own children, did you know that? Because they were worried I’d use them as leverage to stop the rebellion. They needed to be stopped before they hurt someone else.” Sam had decided to add that detail as the story they told—vilifying the dead was a good way to put Sam and Henry in the right.
“Wow…My friend Gino is from Endlyn…guess they killed him too…” Max was quiet, mercifully. Sam should have brought up the dead children sooner. Then someone started talking at them in Chez’n, and he talked back. “She’s going to show you her wares. She’s got cloth.”
“Fine,” Sam sighed, and the next several minutes he passed touching various fabrics while Max translated at him about what they were made from.
Sam wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with that information or with some fabric that wasn’t made into anything, but he let them talk for way longer than he would have liked, oddly grateful for the collar on his neck that prevented him from gutting someone because he was bored.
Sam’s hand fell onto a really soft fabric that moved like liquid and he paused, feeling it, running his hand down the length of it. “I like this one,” he said, mostly to himself.
“It’s artworm silk,” Max told him, as the shopkeeper babbled in Chez’n.
Sam didn’t care. “I’ll take it.”
“She’s asking how much.”
“All of it,” Sam said, letting go with some reluctance. The guard behind him moved forward with his coin. “I want to have bedsheets made out of this.”
“Wow…she’s really happy. I think this is really expensive.”
“Tell her thank you,” Sam muttered, awkwardly. He wasn’t used to people being happy when he was around. It was a weird feeling. He wished Henry was here.
After extricating himself from the cloth merchant, Sam went with Max to a man selling knives, which were at least something Sam had an opinion on. Sadly they seemed to be mostly ornamental, but he bought several anyway.
“What are you going to do with that many knives?” Max asked, as Sam looped one onto his belt, letting his people carry the rest back.
“Stab people,” Sam told him.
Max giggled, obviously assuming it was a joke. “I didn’t know kings were allowed to be funny.”
“Kings are allowed to be whatever they want.” Except for free.
Max laughed again. “You’re really not as bad as people say.”
Sam smiled. “Yes, I am.”
“Okay. There’s one more shop. I don’t know if you’ll want anything from here, it’s kind of just random junk…”
“Don’t listen to him, your Majesty,” a man’s voice said, reproach in his tone. “I only sell the highest quality items.”
Oh, good, someone who spoke a real language. “What items?” Sam asked him, hand out as he walked until he hit the stall.
“I have a selection of smoking pipes here,” the man said. “Some quality reading glasses. A case of premium writing quills.”
Sam didn’t smoke, read or write, and the man seemed to realize those last two just a second later than he should have. He wasn’t very observant. “Or perhaps I could interest you in a hand-carved incense burner.”
“Sure,” Sam said, nodding. Incense gave him headaches, but fine. He had to buy something so he could leave and go back to the fucking house and then go to sleep and then go home tomorrow. “I’ll take that, it sounds good.”
“Very good, sir. Ah, perhaps I could interest you in some of my more…unique wares?”
Sam frowned. “Unique how?”
The man didn’t answer, but he bustled around while Sam waited in irritated silence, and a moment later he heard a tray being put in front of him and a cloth pulled back.
“Um…” Max said, shifting beside Sam.
“What?” Sam demanded. “What is it?”
“These,” said the merchant, gently touching Sam’s hand with something. “Are…aids that you might use, on your own or perhaps together with Lord Henry.”
“With Henry?” Sam asked, taking the object he was being handed. “Why would I…” it was heavy, polished stone, cylindrical, pointed near one end and broader near the other, not quite the length of Sam’s hand. A possible use for this entered Sam’s imagination after a second, and he felt himself get warm in the face.
“You might use these for…extra stimulation, should you need it,” the shopkeeper said. “Or desire it. Of course, if you’d rather not…”
“What else do you have?” Sam asked.
“If you clasp this metal ring around the male member, it will delay gratification,” the man said, handing Sam the ring. “And this can be affixed to a nipple or any number of other places for mild pain. This here has a ribbed surface…”
Sam ended up buying a good number of things from the merchant, and left feeling quite pleased with himself. He knew logically that Henry was going to end up using most of it on him rather than vice-versa, but Sam found that didn’t bother him overly.
“So…” Max said, quiet as he led Sam back to Arkhewer manor. “Is it true, then? That you and Lord Henry are…”
“Fucking?” Sam asked, when he trailed off. “Yes.”
“Wow…” Max muttered. “I didn’t think that was really true. But I guess you’re the king, right? You can do whatever you want!”
Sam snorted as they got nearer to the manor. “Anyone can do whatever they want, Max. If someone tells you that you can’t, you just have to get them out of your way, that’s all.”
“Huh…” Max was mercifully quiet as they crossed the gravel path to the house. “Well…here you are, your Majesty.”
Sam started to go inside, then stopped. He was being nice today. “Thank you for all your help, Max.”
“It was no trouble! I was happy to help, your Majesty!”
Sure he had been. Sam called the guard and got the coin purse he’d been carrying around. It had a few coins left in it, and he gave those to Max. “Here.”
“Lord Henry already paid me to…”
“I don’t care. Take it.”
“Thank you…” Max took the coins. “You’re very nice, your Majesty.”
“No,” Sam told him. “I’m not. But you are. And you were very helpful today. And I reward people who are helpful.”
“Thank you, your Majesty! It was…it was nice to meet you!” The gravel scraped as Max spoke.
“You too. Now get lost, I’m going to eat.”
Sam went in the house and let Max scurry off. “I’m surprised.”
Sam jumped. “Fuck, Henry. Were you just standing there?”
“Yes. I got back a few minutes before you did. I’m surprised you didn’t bring him in here so you could do something awful to him.”
As if Henry would have let him. Or maybe he would have, Sam had no idea. “I’m too tired to hurt anyone today. Your stupid shopping trip was exhausting.”
“Yeah, you look really tired. Come on, there’s lamb for supper.”
“I hate lamb.”
“That’s nice. Come on. It’s our last night here.” Henry put his hands on Sam’s shoulders and guided him towards the dining room, which was actually a sitting room since the dining room was destroyed. “You can tell me what you bought, and I’ll tell you about the craftspeople I met.”
“Whatever.” Sam couldn’t imagine anything less interesting than that, but fine. He went with Henry, liking his hands on him. “Henry?”
“A month ago I would have,” Sam said quietly, recognizing that. “I’d have make him come inside with me.”
“I know,” Henry said. “Why didn’t you today? I’d have let you, you know that.”
“I just…didn’t feel like it, that’s all,” Sam insisted. Henry had put that boy in danger, not knowing whether or not Sam would hurt him. Or maybe knowing that he wouldn’t.
“I want you to think about why not.”
“Just fucking tell me if you have all the answers,” Sam growled.
Henry kissed Sam’s cheek. “No. Think about it yourself. Come on, let’s go eat.”
Sam didn’t care, and he didn’t want to play this stupid game. But he spent the whole meal, despite himself, trying to figure that out.