by Engor

Chapter 18

"Ksantiri, can you look after your guest?"

The question was as unexpected as the sight of the First Lord in the doorway with a sobbing Julien in his arms.

"Of course we can, Noble Lord. But... what happened to him?"

"Apparently the Masters of the Major Arts lack self-control. And I didn't intervene quickly enough."

"Did they hurt him?"

"They didn't mean to, but yes, they did."

"Is it serious?"

"I don't know. I hope not, but he needs to be with his friends. I expect a Health Master could give him something to make him sleep, but I don't think that's what he really needs. Give him a bath – that should relax him a bit - and then put him to bed. It would probably be best if you and your First-G... I mean your brother, stayed with him until morning."

"Don't worry, Noble Lord, we won't go anywhere. But what's been done to him exactly?"

"They probed his mind to try to find out who he is and where he comes from. It seems your friend is no ordinary boy: Aïn says he's a Guide, and that he met a famous Master Guide who died about ten years ago. But the people who were examining him just now couldn't find any trace of any of that. Then they got carried away, and... well, this is the result. They're guilty of very serious professional misconduct. This sort of thing is expressly forbidden by the Laws of the R'hinz – they probed him far too quickly, far too deeply and for too ruthlessly..."

The tone of the First Lord's voice made it clear – far more obviously than the actual words – how extremely angry he was about what had happened. He made what had happened to Julien sound almost obscene, and he was clearly struggling to keep his emotions in check. He took a deep breath and carried on, a little more calmly, "I can't understand how Aïn, my own Master Guide, could have been so careless... anyhow, it's over. We'll have to find some other way of solving the mystery of this boy, because I can promise you that nobody is going to probe his mind again."

Julien looked a complete mess. He could barely stand, his eyes were swollen from crying and snot was dripping unchecked from his nose. Lord Aldegard left, and Niil and Ambar undressed their friend and led him to the large tub in the bathroom, settling down in it together.

After a few minutes Julien began to relax a little. He stopped crying and became aware of his surroundings once more.

"How do you feel?" Niil asked him.

"I've got a headache," said Julien with a grimace. "And I'm thirsty, too."

Ambar jumped out of the tub and, not caring that he was dripping all over the place, went to fetch a drink. The cool raal tasted heavenly and Julien swallowed two mugs of it in quick succession.

"Thanks, Ambar," he said. "Do you think you could find out if I'm allowed any of that pain-killing stuff they gave me before? It might work for my head as well as my ribs."

Ambar was already halfway out of the water, apparently ready to run naked into the corridor, when Niil stopped him.

"Wait!" he said. "Just call Tannder – pull the handle by the door."

Tannder appeared almost immediately and came back with the potion in no time.

"Honourable Julien," he said, "I can give you a massage if you like. It would help you to relax..."

Julien looked at Niil, who shrugged, and so Julien said, "Thanks, Tannder. I'd like that, if it isn't asking too much."

Apparently nothing was too much for Tannder if it contributed to his guests' well-being. Julien soon found himself, having been dried and anointed with perfumed oil, lying on his stomach and being wonderfully kneaded by an expert under the watchful eyes of his two friends who, sadly, had to content themselves with drying each other very thoroughly. Of course, the results of this meant that they had to find something to wear rather quickly in order to hide a certain stiffness that, while perfectly natural, was a little embarrassing, even here on a world that didn't worry too much about such things

By now Julien's mind was almost as numb as his body was relaxed, and he was at the borders of Dreamland, and so when Tannder asked him to turn over onto his back he obeyed without thinking about it, thus displaying to his audience a front side of his body which included a clear pointer that his body had become revitalised. As soon as he realised how exposed he was he blushed – well, anyone would in those circumstances – but at least he managed not to make things worse by trying to hide his condition behind his hands. It's a clear indication of how much Niil and Ambar liked him that neither of them said or did anything to suggest that they had noticed Julien's condition: not even so much as a giggle escaped their lips.

So Julien closed his eyes and was waiting for the massage to continue, when Tannder, ever the impeccable gentleman's gentleman, leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "Would you like me to take care of your Honourable Penis for you?"

Julien had already decided that he would be happy to abide by local customs while he was in Aleth – 'When in Rome', once again. But this was definitely going too far. This was like a PE teacher at school suggesting that a quick wank would be the perfect way to warm up for gymnastics. He managed to restrain himself from getting up and running away; but his voice was a bit unsteady when he replied, "Er... no, thanks, Tannder. It'll go down in its own eventually."

Tannder was tactful enough not to insist, and instead resumed his extremely efficient ministrations to Julien's shoulders – and he was so efficient that Julien fell asleep in mid-massage and had to be carried to his bed.

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