"I don't like this, Niil." said Julien.
"What don't you like?"
"Any of this. I don't like the way things are going."
"What do you mean?"
"You heard Tannder, didn't you? Well, I think he's right: to all intents and purposes I'm a prisoner, and if I let them they'll turn me into some sort of performing monkey."
"Oh, come on! I mean, I've got no idea what a 'monkey' might be, but surely they can't turn you into a pet?"
"What, you think the people in charge of this world are just going to start doing whatever I tell them to?"
"But... you're the Emperor!"
"So they tell me. Personally, I'm not so sure."
"But even Tannder thinks so!"
"Tannder is a nice person, and he certainly thinks he's telling the truth. And I'm sure I can depend on him to protect me. But Tannder isn't exactly the boss around here, is he?"
"No – that's you."
"I'm sure that's what they want me to think," said Julien. "But they still see me as a kid, and they'll treat me like one. They'll bow a lot and call me 'Your Lordship' but they'll tell me what to do and I won't even be allowed to say what I think about it. That's pretty much what Tannder just told me, isn't it?"
"Come on, Julien, you're exaggerating. The First Lord has treated you really well, and..."
"Niil, Aldegard is very polite, very considerate and everything a good host should be, but if you think he's going to let me do anything except what he wants me to, you're fooling yourself."
"But I know him. He's absolutely loyal to the Emperor."
"Well, first, you only think you know him, and really you're just going on what your father has told you. Second, I'm sure you're right about him being loyal to the Emperor, but the problem with that is, he doesn't really think I am the Emperor. He thinks I might become the Emperor, but right now he sees me as a little kid who he's going to have to educate – just like your father thinks that Ambar could become a proper Ksantiri with a proper education. And third, there's one thing he's never going to let me do, and that's go back home."
Niil looked upset. "You want to leave us?" he asked.
"Niil, my parents must be tearing their hair out. They'll be thinking I've run away, or that I've been kidnapped, or even that I'm dead! And obviously I miss them too. Obviously I'd go home, if only I could! Yes, I'd really miss you, and Ambar too, but... Ideally I'd like to be able to go and let them know I'm fine and then come back here. But that's never going to happen."
"Why not? Surely the Guides can find a way to get you back – after all, you managed to get here all by yourself!"
"It's not going to happen because Aldegard and his colleagues won't allow it. I still don't really understand what's happening, but it's clear that they need me, and so they're not going to let me go."
"What are we going to do, then?"
"Right now I think we should go to bed. Ambar's out on his feet and I'm pretty knackered too. You don't mind sharing the bed, I hope?"
"Of course not!"
"And can I, too?" Ambar might have been tired, but he wasn't so tired as to let an opening like that go past.
"If you promise not to snore," said Julien.
"I never snore!"
"Well, perhaps not. Then you'd better go and have a pee before you get into bed. You don't want to wet the bed, do you?"
"I never wet the bed, either!" said Ambar, indignantly.
For a moment Ambar looked shocked that anyone could accuse him of such a dreadful thing – of course he was tired, and his sense of humour was not to the fore. But then he realised that Julien was simply winding him up.
"On the other hand," said Ambar with a mischievous grin, "it's been such a long time since I did last wet the bed that perhaps I should try it again tonight, just to remember what it's like."
"Not a chance!" said Julien. "You're not getting into my bed unless you go and have a pee first!"
"Well, I would, but I'm scared of the dark. Will you come and hold my hand?"
This lovely impression of a scared four-year-old didn't really go with the positively dirty grin he was also displaying.
"I know exactly what you're after, and it isn't your hand you want me to hold!" said Julien. "We really don't have time for that."
"We don't have time to pee?"
"All, right, all right, I'll come with you, then."
"You'd better help me take off my lakh. I'd hate to splash it!"
As Julien did this he got a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he realised that Ambar's Marks, which shone like silver in the soft light of the kang, made him look even more beautiful than he had been before.
"They look nice, don't they?" said Ambar. "And look, I've got one that curls all the way up to the end of my willy, just like Niil!"
Julien had indeed noticed this while playing with Niil in the shower earlier.
"Yes, it's fascinating," he said. "So, do you want to pee or not?"
"Are you sure you don't want a closer look?
For a moment Julien held back, thinking about Tannder and whether he was spying on them. But then he realised that he had to choose whether to trust Tannder or not: either he was a loyal servant who would keep his word, or he was a nasty sort whose word wasn't to be trusted, in which case Julien was in for a difficult future. But he remembered Tannder's honest face and decided that he could trust him – and in any case, he more or less had to, if he wasn't going to spend every waking moment feeling like a lab rat.
"Come on, have a look!" Ambar encouraged him.
How could he resist an invitation like that? Julien dropped to his knees, and Ambar thrust the relevant part of his anatomy under Julien's nose. Suddenly Ambar didn't sound a bit tired.
"Look," he went on, "the Mark covers the skin but doesn't go underneath."
He slipped his newly-decorated foreskin down to reveal the shiny red tip beneath it, which indeed was unMarked. And Julien suddenly found himself wondering what this interesting little item tasted like. It was disturbing: how could he possibly contemplate doing something like that?
"Oh, look, now it's gone all hard. That's your fault! Anyway, you'd better do something about it, 'cos I won't be able to pee like this!"
Apparently the same bizarre thought had now crossed Ambar's mind, because he pushed his hips forward, bringing the object of Julien's contemplation so close that he was obliged to squint in order to be able to keep looking at it. And he found himself even more determined to taste it, despite his upbringing: yes, he supposed that it would be pretty disgusting to put another boy's knob in his mouth... but the boy was Ambar, and Ambar was the most beautiful being in the world. Ambar was beautiful and lovable, and therefore every single part of Ambar was beautiful and lovable too.
It actually only took him a fraction of a second to make a decision, and so he was scarcely aware of thinking it through: he simply moved forward until he was close enough, first to plant a tentative kiss on the tip, and then, encouraged by Ambar pressing against him, to allow it into his mouth.
Immediately he lost his inhibitions: far from finding this disgusting, he actually thought that it felt really good. Even the very faint salty hint of Ambar's last visit to the bathroom a couple of hours previously somehow tasted good. He felt that he was sharing a deeply intimate connection, and he liked it, and within a few seconds he had begun to explore what was in his mouth with enthusiasm, feeling that his tongue could almost see the smallest details, until finally his nose reached the little hollow just above the base of the penis and he was able to breathe in Ambar's scent, which was fresh and thrilling and somehow a distillation of the boy's unique essence.
The penis seemed almost to have been made to fit perfectly into his mouth, and it joined the two of them together perfectly and excitingly. Exciting, because Julien was amazed to discover that by caressing Ambar he was himself becoming excited: the pleasure he was giving was somehow being reflected onto him. And he was delighted to discover that making another boy feel good seemed even better to him than being made to feel good himself.
Julien was aware that the Devil makes work for idle hands to do, and so, rather than keep his hands idle, he followed the path of Virtue by using them to stroke and fondle Ambar's small testicles in their warm, soft bag. And although he had never done this before he seemed to have picked up the technique perfectly, because very quickly his young partner lost control and thrust against Julien's head, his small member pulsing on Julien's tongue.
Ambar was both grateful and very polite: even before he had got his breath back properly, and while his stiff penis was still in his friend's mouth, he whispered "Thank you."
Julien was equally polite and well brought up, and so he allowed – with some reluctance – the small item on which he had been concentrating to slip out of his mouth, and then said "You're welcome."
Niil promptly burst out laughing.
"Now that Ambar has got what he wanted," he said, "maybe this would be a good time to make him have his pee, before he gets any more bright ideas."
Julien stood up. He'd already changed his clothes and so now he was only wearing a gossamer-thin white lai – and without underwear, at that. His erection was therefore completely unmissable, especially since it had also left a damp stain on the material, demonstrating just how excited he had been.
Niil laughed again. "And once Ambar's been to water the porcelain," he went on, "maybe I'd better help you with your own little problem."
Ambar went and watered the porcelain, although he still asked Julien to hold it for him while he did so. It was actually a pleasant-smelling water, probably because he'd been eating something that affects the smell of the eater's water, rather like asparagus does on Earth. But in this case it smelled sweet, like a flower.
However, afterwards Niil didn't get a chance to demonstrate his technique to Julien: instead it was Ambar, no doubt driven by a sense of duty and obligation, who insisted on introducing Julien to the delights of being on the receiving end of oral sex. Julien lay on the bed and, had he not been overwhelmed by the sensations he was experiencing, he might have felt almost humiliated by Ambar's complete mastery of the process: the boy apparently knew the position of every nerve ending, and he played them like a real expert. Indeed, if Julien had still been capable of coherent thought he might have wondered just where and how this apparently innocent little sprite had gained such knowledge. But he was in no condition to speculate. He did make a feeble attempt to stroke Niil's erection – Niil was sitting right next to him – but he quickly gave up on that in favour of concentrating on what Ambar was doing to him instead.
And eventually, after a particularly overwhelming orgasm, he fell fast asleep, leaving Ambar performing an enthusiastic encore on his brother.
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