Authors: Mell Eight
Tags: #fantasy, #M/M romance, #Dragon's Hoard
Lor gripped Kam by the shoulder and pulled him back to his sled.
"Sit," Lor snapped. He thrust Kam's abandoned packet of food into his hands before bending down and removing Kam's boots. Kam's left woolen sock was soaked and Lor glared up at him at the sight. "You'll lose your toes," Lor snarled, drawing the sock down and showing toes that were pale, frosty white.
Kam gulped at the sight. Those were not healthy toes. Lor reached out and cupped Kam's toes in his hand. Kam hissed at the sudden extreme warmth that enveloped the numb digits.
The fierce look of concentration on Lor's face made Kam bite his lip. Lor was very handsome normally, but when he was so focused his distinct cheekbones and brilliant, hard blue eyes almost had a radiant glow. Lor's beauty, coupled with just how kind he was while taking care of so many difficult responsibilities, made Kam's eyes follow him around the camp and his belly quiver with want.
Lor was touching him, even if it was only to work a spell, and that made Kam inordinately pleased. He had rescued the falcon and had Lor by his side for the moment.
Lor slowly drew his hand away, leaving behind five healthy pink toes. "If your feet get wet, change your socks immediately," Lor cautioned. "If your socks freeze, you could lose your entire foot."
"Thanks, Lor," Kam said softly, smiling up at the large man as Lor stood.
"Eat," Lor replied gruffly as he turned away. He walked over to where Lenny was shaking his head over the injured falcon and gently placed his hand over the broken wing. The bird screeched and tried to wiggle free, before subsiding back into calm sleep underneath its hood. The feeling of pain emanating from the falcon faded away as if it had never been.
They all climbed back into the sleds for the journey back to the camp. Kam could tell Lor was tired, but he still worked hard to keep the sleds moving safely. They reached the outer tents just as the bottom edge of the sun began to dip behind the mountains. Kam was grateful when Mae sent other men to help unload the sleds and to bring the meat where it could be properly cleaned and preserved.
Kam focused on unhitching the dogs while the bustle continued around him. He was ducked down behind a sled, trying to untangle a set of traces so he could find the clip to free the dog still attached when Mae pulled Lor aside.
"We got another note," she said quietly. "He says he's got a woman this time and swears that even though she isn't a witch both her parents are."
"A woman with witch blood?" Lor asked, sounding excited. "That's excellent. She could really give the clan the help we need. When does he want to meet?"
"In two days," Mae replied. She sounded a bit disappointed in Lor's reaction, but there was also a lot of understanding in her tone. Kam could understand the dilemma from personal experience. He had been through the same thing that woman was about to experience. Kidnapped from whatever life she had been leading in the human city, the woman would be brought north and would be enticed to have children with one or more of the men from Lor's bloodline. Witch blood from both sides of the parentage would help ensure that a new witch would be born to the clan, something they desperately needed for their very survival.
While Mae may have been disapproving of the overall plan, Kam knew she was aware of the consequences of failure as well. Lor, well, Lor had been watching as the subsequent generations of his people slowly grew smaller and smaller. His desperation to save the Tribe would force him into agreeing to any plan, even the most remote and morally repugnant idea.
Lor and Mae moved off and Kam finally untangled the leather straps and found the tie to free the dog. He got a lick of thanks from the sled dog, which made him smile, but Kam still felt unsettled for the remainder of the evening. He didn't want to go back to the human city—he liked living with the clan in the ice much more than living in the docks with humans that hated him. He wanted the Tribe to survive, but he didn't know if he could agree with the current method.
Kam went to bed that night still feeling flustered, which is probably why he had such a vivid dream of his own first few days in the ice wastes.
After their meeting that first morning, Kam didn't see Lor for at least a week. Instead, three women all with light blonde hair and blue eyes came by a couple times a day. He had been given a small pallet in the large communal tent the clan seemed to use for anything that couldn't be accomplished outside where a sudden snow squall could wet drying furs or a blast of icy wind could knock over an important project.
A young woman named Ness brought breakfast every morning. She would enter the tent, bring the tray of food she was carrying over to the side of his bed, take off her heavy fur coat, and then they would share a pleasant meal together.
Only, Kam couldn't help noticing that underneath her fur coat Ness wasn't wearing all that much. She was fully covered, because going without would cause frostbite even inside the tent, but she would shift and suddenly a flash of leg or a curve of her breast would appear.
Kam always politely averted his eyes and couldn't help wondering if the people of the north had different expectations of propriety than he was used to. A polite girl didn't do such things in the human city. Kam would have thought that maybe only Ness behaved in such a way if it weren't for Cara. She was the woman who invited Kam out for a walk every afternoon and brought him to the central fire to get lunch. She introduced Kam to the difficult life the Tribe was forced to live out in the ice wastes.
He enjoyed spending time with Cara and learning about the place he had been taken was important to Kam, but she kept grabbing his arm and pushing her ample chest against him or bending down in front of him to show off her rounded behind. Kam wasn't sure how to tell either of the girls to stop. He wasn't interested in what they were offering—their leader, Lor, had been much more interesting to Kam—but he didn't want to embarrass anyone by speaking up.
Mae, the third woman who brought him back to his tent at night after dinner, was the only one who kept herself properly clothed and distanced from Kam. She was older and good at scowling, but Kam liked her best out of all three of the women he had been introduced to, probably because it was clear from her actions that she wasn't interested in seducing him. She was just there to keep an eye on Kam.
The really strange part about living in the cold and ice was that strange things kept happening to Kam. Mae once asked him to hold a satchel of herbs and he fell asleep. Another time he tripped walking out of the tent and almost took Cara down with his flailing to keep his feet. He burnt himself by the fire one day during lunch because somehow the flames had risen up to snap at his hand.
At the end of the first week, Lor came into the tent carrying the breakfast tray instead of Ness. He set out tea along with the food and joined Kam in eating. After his third sip of the tea, Kam started to feel a bit funny. By his fifth sip, he figured he had been drugged. He glared accusingly up at Lor, but was surprised by the glare he got in return.
"You are a good actor, I admit," Lor said in a voice that was somehow calm and genial despite his closed features. "You've managed to expertly not evade every magical trap I've set. But I will have the answers I'm seeking. Are you a witch?" Lor asked, his voice suddenly going sharp. His eyes, which had been focused on Kam's face, appeared somewhat glassy, as if they were looking at something Kam couldn't see.
"I'm not," Kam answered, his voice slurred from whatever drug Lor had put in his drink. "My mother was a whore and she never told me who my father was before she died. Everyone always assumed the local potions man was my father, because she used to pay him with services rather than money, but he was a fake anyway."
"Why do you ignore the women I've sent to you?" Lor asked once Kam's running mouth finally closed.
Kam couldn't help laughing. "I don't like girls like that, so having them throw themselves at me won't have any effect. I would prefer you without any clothing than Ness," Kam said, feeling his face heat up as his mouth spoke without any input from his brain. He had never told anyone he preferred men before—in the docks that was either a death sentence from close-minded folk or a whore's sentence from desperate sailors on ship leave. He might as well have sold himself to one of the houses in the red light district if he were going to tell anyone about his sexual preferences. It didn't matter that Prince Leon was paired with another man, because the people living along the docks preferred to be cold and hard in every situation. It was the way life worked there.
"I see," Lor said, his eyes returning to focus on Kam's face. "That is … unfortunate," he finished. Lor got to his feet with a sigh. "Eat your breakfast. The potion will wear off by the time you're finished. Go find Mae when you're done."
Kam finished his breakfast quietly, wondering what had just happened. Had Lor tricked him into taking a truth potion? Was Kam going to be thrown out now that Lor knew the truth?
When the fuzziness finally receded and he had finished with breakfast, Kam stood and left the tent. He found Mae by the central fire. She looked at him with a grunt and a nod.
"You're not big enough to do any real chores," she grumbled. "You like the dogs though, right?" she asked without expecting an answer. No doubt she had seen Kam petting the various dogs that roamed freely around the camp. "Every morning you'll get up and feed the dogs before you get your breakfast, then I'll find some other chores for you for the rest of the day. I'm moving you to a single man's tent," she added. "Now go help Hern with the dogs." Mae turned back to the cook pot over the fire in a clear dismissal.
Kam walked towards the kennels and couldn't keep a small smile off his face. He wasn't being sent away! They were keeping him and they were integrating him into their society. Doing chores meant he was earning his keep and having his own tent, instead of sleeping in the communal one, gave him the privacy that every other member of the clan enjoyed. Kam didn't have to go back to his lonely apartment by the docks or his hated job. He didn't care that it was cold and icy or that Lor probably would never speak with him again. The camp was going to be his home and Kam was elated.
Kam woke up the next morning with mixed feelings from his dream. He was still happy living with the clan, but Lor only spoke with him when Kam did something stupid like run off into the wastes with only a dog and a bird. Kam put the thought out of his mind and firmly pushed his blankets back, wincing as the cold air hit his skin. He scrambled into his fur coat and made sure his hat was pulled down to cover his ears and neck before pushing back the flap to his tent and stepping outside into the morning sunlight.
The day was bright, clear, and cold. Kam took a bracing second to ready himself for the chill before he began hurrying off to do his morning chores. He had to set out the food for all the dogs. Their hunger was beginning to press on his awareness.
He managed three steps forward before his foot slid on something, possibly ice that Lor had missed when he checked the safety of the camp every morning, and went flying. Kam landed face first in a snowdrift and his hat popped off. He pushed himself to his knees, spluttering and embarrassed as he tried to brush snow off his face.
One of the younger dogs came gamboling up to Kam. He was only a few months old and liked to play, but instead of lurching into Kam's lap the puppy growled and grabbed Kam's hat before taking off at a run.
Kam could already feel the icy wind chilling his ears and neck. Besides, that hat was the first thing someone had ever made for him out of kindness—he didn't want to lose it.
"Bring that back!" Kam yelled after the puppy in as authoritative a voice as he could. The puppy froze in place and turned his head to whine at Kam. The look of fun in the dog's eyes had vanished. "That's right, it's bad to take people's things," Kam scolded. "Bring it back."
The puppy slunk back to Kam and dropped the hat at his feet. Kam bent down to brush off the hat and firmly pull it back down over his ears. Then he gave the puppy a good belly rub for listening to Kam's orders.
"Let's go get you some breakfast," Kam said to the puppy that was wagging his tail happily. Kam picked the dog up with a grunt, the puppy was almost too big to carry, and hurried over to the kennel where Hern already had the heavy door open. The dogs began to circle Kam excitedly as he began digging out and apportioning food.
Only once every dog was happy did Kam move into the kennel. The new mother whined at him from her position on the floor with her four puppies, but otherwise the kennel was empty.
"You're being awfully lazy today," Kam scolded as he placed the mother's portion in front of her. His eyes were for the puppies, the runt in particular. They all seemed to be happily suckling away for their breakfast, but the smallest one really had to fight to get her nose in there. Kam was quick to step forward and push the other three puppies into a more organized pile so all the puppies had an equal chance at getting breakfast. The runt gave a happy grunt and set to.
Kam was impressed with how energetic the puppies were at only a day old. The dogs living on the ice must mature at a faster rate through necessity—a small, helpless puppy couldn't survive for very long in such a harsh climate. The city strays he was used to weren't nearly as large or as lively as the clan's dogs. Maybe there was a touch of magic involved in their growth too.
Hern came into the building with two shovels. Kam took one and they quickly got about their tasks of cleaning up.
Breakfast that morning was subdued. Word had gotten around that Lor was heading south the next day. There was worry for Lor's safety as well as worry for the safety of the clan without their only witch. Lor spent the day casting as many spells as he could for the clan, trying to prevent any catastrophe that could occur during the hours he would be so far away.