Author: Guede Mazaka
The loft was a wash of fragrant, golden hay with only a single brown bump to break its endless waves. Marke stared at the boot-tip for a long moment, gathering himself, before pulling up the rest of the way and putting one foot on the planks. A few feet away from the boot, the hay stirred.
“Tristan?” Marke called.
A spot about two feet right of the moving hay suddenly turned into an explosion as Tristan sat up, while the spot Marke had first noted briefly glinted silver as the other man put down his dagger. Marke reminded himself to always announce his presence from a discreet distance away, and not only because of habits of war.
“Something the matter?” Despite the straw in his hair, Tristan managed to look both concerned and quite dangerous, like a beast in the moment just before it decided that it’d been brought to bay.
“Oh, no. In fact, I happen to have an hour free from any duty whatsoever,” Marke hastily reassured him. That turned out to be a slight miscalculation on Marke’s part, as Tristan swiftly turned from wary to contemplating, and then from contemplating to a weight plowing into Marke’s chest.
Several squeaky planks and hay scratching in many more places than Marke found strictly ideal--yet couldn’t really bring himself to complain—they’d stopped moving long enough for Marke to remember why he'd come up in the first place. Of course, having a long, warm body comfortably draped over him was quite a reason in itself...but right. That.
“What?” Tristan lazily pulled himself up and folded his arms over Marke's chest, eyes narrowing. “Don't say it’s nothing. You’ve just remembered to ask me something, so you might as well.”
By now, Marke had long since ceased being startled by that sort of insight and had progressed to simply being grateful. Most of the time, anyway. Currently he found it rather awkward. “Tomorrow night is the full moon, and since it seems prudent to continue the old tradition of riding out...”
“Mmm...” Motes of straw pattered down on Marke’s face as Tristan pushed his shoulders forward and his chin up in a stretch that drew Marke’s eyes to his neck. Then he dropped down and started licking along Marke’s jaw.
“And you usually stay back to oversee the castle, but I think things are secure enough so that that’s not needed tonight. I’ve already spoke to Isolde, and she’s agreeable to you riding with us.” Marke swallowed and stared hard at the beams in the ceiling. The warm flickering at his jaw had segued into long, lingering strokes that tickled his throat and disarrayed his thoughts. When he’d mentioned Isolde, Tristan had pushed his hand down Marke’s leg, hesitated, and then slid it between Marke’s sticky thighs. “So I think it’d be politic if you accompanied Melot.”
The licking stopped. So did the progress of Tristan’s hand. “Melot? He usually loops back as soon as possible and ends up taking a whore down to the stables. Or a couple.”
“Yes, well, Isolde and I have discussed the matter and we think it’d be better for all concerned if someone went with him.” This wasn’t going quite as Marke had planned it. He was rushing the issue, and he was far too old to be falling into that trap again, but at the moment he was ashamed to admit the uppermost thought in his mind desperately wanted to be willing Tristan’s fingers to slide right one more palm’s width.
“To keep him from the women?” Tristan propped himself up again, his brows drawing down into a frown. His hand paused, then withdrew to Marke’s belly. “Why? He hasn’t gotten one of them pregnant yet, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Marke sternly told himself to be careful and introduce the subject patiently. And then he completely disregarded his own advice. “No, I’m worried that he hasn’t been to them lately, or so I hear.”
The confusion on Tristan’s face deepened. “So you want me to direct him to them?”
“I don’t think he’s interested in them anymore,” Marke blurted.
Tristan blinked a few times as he absorbed the information. Then his expression went perfectly smooth and his hands dropped off Marke altogether. With any other man, Marke would have judged them to be still thinking, but Tristan was much quicker than that. He’d finished thinking and had gone to reaction, which was justifiably angry, though his tone hadn’t risen at all. “You want me to go with Melot to the stables?”
“It’s making him sullen--well, moreso than usual, and the other day he nearly had two barons challenging him to a decision by contest, and it’s really quite disruptive of the peace we’ve worked so hard to—” No, this wasn’t going well. If anything was to be salvaged from the situation, Marke would have to act quickly. “Isolde agrees with me,” his mouth added.
That wasn’t it, his mind instantly retorted. Tristan’s face agreed. “Really. So why isn’t she speaking to me of it?”
Marke’s mouth plainly couldn’t be trusted, so he kept it shut. He did, however, keep tight hold on the other man, and not only because he couldn’t remember where they’d tossed all their respective weapons.
After a moment, Tristan sighed and slumped back down on Marke, though not in a fashion that would encourage anything as pleasant as their previous activities. He blew out an exasperated breath. “Marke, she’s your wife and you may love her dearly, but you’re king of Britain. You have to stop looking like a cornered deer when she talks you into something. And I love Isolde like I love breath, but she brought some very queer ideas about love and camaraderie from Ireland with her. Besides, have you forgotten how long it took to arrange things between us?”
“No. And believe me, I would do nothing to jeopardize that.” No, he hadn’t, and the memory hung heavily in the air. After a long, quiet moment, Marke leaned forward and pressed his mouth to the point of Tristan's shoulder. He felt the muscle move jerkily, then smoothly beneath his lips, and before he’d put his head back, cool fingertips were lightly petting his collarbone. Relief washed through him like a stream freshened with spring-melted snow: Tristan wouldn’t hold it against him.
Tristan never did, and for that Marke was both eternally grateful and eternally wondering at his good luck. He never hesitated in taking it, and taking advantage of it, but often in the deepest dark of the night, he woke with fierce pangs in his chest at the thought of the time when he finally used it up.
“But Melot is a problem,” Marke reluctantly, finally added. “I’m not merely repeating what Isolde says when it comes to that. Tristan, the day your father died--I was merely trading one right hand for another, I see that now, but Melot is my sister’s son and right now, still my heir. And even besides that, I do love him for himself.”
“Despite his difficulties.” The corner of Tristan's mouth wryly twisted up. His fingers were still petting Marke, and gradually moving lower again, drawing thin trembling lines over Marke’s skin. “I’ve noticed it as well. But have you talked to him about it?”
Marke suppressed a sigh. “Tristan, he’s my sister’s son. I can talk to her for hours and still not learn anything. The line breeds true.”
“Fine, but how do you know that it’s me? He’s never acted any differently around me, and Isolde only knows him from after she arrived, when everything changed anyway.” By now Tristan’s fingers were tracing down below Marke’s belly, pulling the sweat from the coarse hair around Marke’s prick. He shifted casually so his stomach scraped over its swelling head. “I can speak to him.”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you to do,” Marke said. He would’ve liked to leave it there, on neutral ground, but that wouldn’t suffice for the situation and he never left things done halfway. “But I also wanted you to know--if it goes further--Isolde and I understand.”
Tristan’s expression blanked again as he considered this, his eyes sweeping back and forth over Marke’s face. He rolled his shoulders in a slow stretch, then finally blinked. “You truly think it’s me.”
Oddly enough, Tristan’s hand had gotten more aggressive during the short interlude, and only increased its forwardness till it seemed as if the tightening of Marke’s balls was the same as the tightening of Marke’s skull around his brain. “You remember--the other day, when you spent nearly a minute trying to suck the marrow out of that rib--oh, fuck—”
The thumb temporarily retreated as its companion fingers teased Marke’s prick, but hooked back before the space of a breath had passed. It dug back into the spot behind Marke's balls, grinding up as Tristan grinned. “I should remember. You did a marvelous imitation of me a few hours afterward.”
“Fuck...you little...you sweet little bastard...” Occasionally the profane ranker soldier got the better of Marke. Not that Tristan, or Isolde, ever seemed to mind. “Whoring—I’m not going to forget just because you've got the hands of a--oh--damn it! Tristan!”
“What? If my hand’s of no use to you...” Once in a while, Tristan proved someone--probably one of the old hill-gods; it was their kind of style--had gifted him with a sense of humor. He put his hand back after a long, painful moment, but resumed at a much slower pace. “I suppose that is why you’re king of Britain.”
Marke indulged in a little thumping of his head against the planks, though there was so much straw down it did next to nothing. “And for other reasons, I’d hope. Anyway--Melot was staring.”
“The whole room was staring, according to Isolde. And according to what you were muttering in my ear about not being so shameless and don’t tempt others because you weren’t about to let go and you weren’t even sure you should let me off the bed. We should serve roasted marrowbones more often,” Tristan said against Marke’s neck. His knee nudged over Marke’s so he could press Marke’s prick against his thigh and rub.
“And he was trying to cut his meat at the same time and instead he cut halfway through the table,” Marke added, gasping. “He’s been asking the guards about your whereabouts so often they’ve complained to me, and he’s the one that has that glove you lost and back when he did go to whores, they were the same ones you’d been to, and—”
Tristan snarled, then threw up his head to glare at Marke. “All right, it is me. Fine, I’ll talk to him. But why on earth would you think I’d--Marke? Marke, you’re not listening, are you?”
Marke stared up at the other man. After a moment, Tristan glanced down between them and comprehension dawned. He flicked an apologetic look up, and his fingers flicked the tip of Marke’s prick between them, and finally Marke could...well, a moment later he could think straightforwardly again.
Tristan nuzzled at Marke's neck and made a deep, rough noise that was very like purring when Marke softly drew knuckles over his back.
“Actually, before you came back over the sea with Isolde, I thought my biggest future problem would be dealing with you and Melot when one of you finally married,” Marke said.
The other man went quiet and still for so long that Marke began to worry. But then Tristan let out a long, low breath, pressing so closely Marke could feel the sweep of his eyelashes as he closed his eyes.
“It was a surprise to me when you started drawing away.” Marke curled his hand around to pull up Tristan's chin to where he could see Tristan’s face.
Which was a bit wrinkled about the nose in annoyance. “That’s interesting. After all, my free time used to be spent with him, but then you made me your second and I had more duties to carry out. And then after your and Isolde’s coronation, we all decided it’d be less suspicious and most fair if I guarded both of you for equal amounts of time, and that was a new duty on top of my old ones—”
“All right, all right. Point taken,” Marke tartly said. “It’s my fault.”
Tristan almost seemed to flinch, but turned it into a roll of the eyes. “No, it’s not. I’ll ride with him. And then I’ll see. There. Everything that can be settled, is settled.”
Marke propped himself up and swept his tongue over Tristan's nipple, then leaned back to enjoy the startled expression on the other man's face. “Is it?”
A couple moments later, some hay interfered long enough to have them temporarily separate, cursing and clawing at themselves. Tristan tossed a handful over their heads and started to bend back down, then paused. “You’d share me with two other people? For the good of Britain?”
That kind of question was worst answered with immediacy, so Marke took his time and thought hard. He slid his hand from Tristan's neck to his arm and squeezed it. “The good of Britain is peace and happiness after so many years of strife and division,” he finally said. “If by giving up a little of my own riches, I can see more of that among those around me, then I’d gladly do it.”
Tristan kissed him hard, forcing them back down, and then let Marke roll him over. “You should be repaid more often than you are,” he replied in a fierce voice, pulling Marke down. But his coin alone, Marke thought, was more than adequate compensation.