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Red Heir
Author: Lisa Henry

Chapter One

 

 

Loth sighed and rattled the chains of his manacles, but they remained stubbornly affixed to the cold stone wall of the cell in Delacourt castle. Delacourt castle, like the rest of Delacourt, was a total shithole. Loth had only been here a few days after stumbling off the ship from Callier, but he felt more than qualified to make that judgement call. His head throbbed, either because of how much ale he’d had to drink last night or because the guards hadn’t been gentle with him during his arrest. His memory of the events wasn’t crystal clear, but his favourite blue doublet had a tear in it, and he was fairly certain he’d never get the stains out of the knees of his pants. Which, not for the first time, but Loth preferred to be on his knees by choice, and not because he was being dragged through the muddy streets by a bunch of thugs wearing the livery of the crown. Waking up in chains wasn’t his favourite way to start the day either, that was for sure. Not unless he’d agreed to it beforehand.

“I suppose you’re wondering how I got into this mess,” he announced loudly in the gloom.

The pile of straw on the other side of the cell rustled, and a grubby face appeared. “I wasn’t. I don’t care.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Loth said to his cellmate.

“Then who were you talking to?” his cellmate demanded, jutting his jaw out.

“I was soliloquising,” Loth said. “Well, I was hoping to, but somebody won’t shut their mouth.”

“Why don’t you shut your mouth?”

Loth snorted. “How can I soliloquise if I do that? Now, hush.” He cleared his throat. “I suppose you’re wondering how I got into this mess.”

“I am not wondering!” his cellmate snarled. “I am trying to sleep! Shut up!”

“Since you’re awake,” Loth said, “and apropos of nothing, you wouldn’t happen to know what the penalty is in these parts for pickpocketing, would you?”

“I hope it involves cutting your tongue out.”

Loth hummed. “That would be a terrible loss. My tongue would be mourned throughout the land.”

“I doubt that very much,” his snappish cellmate replied. “You haven’t said anything of import yet.”

Loth grinned. “Oh, sweetheart, I didn’t mean for talking.”

Eyes widened in the shadows, and then the straw rustled again as his cellmate attempted to bury himself under it. “Shut up!”

Loth leaned his head back against the wall and chuckled. Well, at least he could entertain himself while he was here, right? His cellmate—a drab, grimy creature who appeared to be mostly composed of straw—was just the sort of prickly arsehole that was fun to torment. It was especially fun since they were chained to opposite walls, and Loth had already checked his cellmate couldn’t reach him. If he attempted to attack Loth in a fit of rage, he’d be brought up short. Loth had learned very early in life that with a mouth like his, he’d needed to develop a very strong sense of self-preservation to go along with it.

Not that the straw man opposite was really any kind of threat. Loth was reminded of an angry rodent—a quivering bundle of impotent rage, but more amusing than dangerous. He decided to poke at the little wretch some more, if only to entertain himself. “What are you in here for, anyway? Let’s see if I can guess.”

“No!” The grubby urchin snapped. “Go away!”

“Well I would, but...” Loth rattled his chain. “I’ll tell you what, though. I get to ask you three questions, and then I get three guesses. If I can’t work out your crime, I’ll be quiet for the rest of the day. Deal?”

The straw parted and the boy—no, young man—sat up. He was older than Loth had first thought, long and lanky, and his features were fine enough to be called pretty under all that dirt, but he was still a dishevelled mess. “You’ll really shut up?”

“I’ll definitely think about it.”

The boy tilted his head slightly, considering, and his hair flashed red in the sliver of sunlight coming through the tiny barred window. His shade of red was lighter than Loth’s, but then, Loth’s came courtesy of henna rather than genetics. His eyes were quite lovely. They shone bright green as the sunlight caught them. What a shame his scowl ruined what little he had to work with. “Fine, but yes or no questions only.”

Cheeky little shit.

“I suppose I could make that work.” Loth didn't really think he could guess the boy’s crime, but he was going to have a lot of fun trying. Redheads were so easy to make blush—in all sorts of places.

Loth looked at the boy and made a contemplative sound, and yes, even the weight of his gaze was enough to make his victim’s cheeks flush pink.

“Hmmm.” Loth mused aloud. “I doubt you’re a whore, although you’re definitely pretty enough—I’d pay at least a gold coin.”

The young man’s mouth dropped open, his face went beet red, and his eyes widened, in mortification or scandal, Loth wasn’t sure which.

“Actually, I take that back. With a prissy attitude like yours, you’d need to pay me, not the other way around. You’re more frigid than an ice giant’s ballsack, aren’t you?” Loth held one finger up when it looked like his cellmate was about to interject. “And before you ask, that wasn’t a question, it was a speculation, so it doesn’t count.”

The boy might have been frosty, but his glare was pure fire.

“Hmm.” Loth sucked on his teeth for a moment. “I wonder if it’s an arrestable offence in this part of the kingdom to be a rude little twat. Because in that case, you may be looking at the death penalty. I’ll bet it’s something incredibly base though and suited to your low station. Like turnip theft, or horse buggery.”

The young man's lips thinned and Loth could see the internal struggle going on.

It was a struggle that the youngster inevitably lost when Loth added, “Just out of interest, were you the buggerer or the buggeree? Was there some sort of harness, or do you carry a footstool with you? The height difference intrigues me, so do tell.”

“How dare you!” he burst out. “I am a political prisoner, not a—a—”

“Lover of horses?” And oh, but wasn’t that interesting? Because Loth had no doubt that this scruffy, grubby little mouse, despite his appearances was, in fact, no peasant. He might have looked like one, but his accent gave him away. And, unlike Loth, that accent probably wasn’t faked. “Political, you say? Do tell. Are you the illegitimate spawn of a ranking official? Are you perhaps a spy?”

“No, and no,” the boy said, outrage magically vanishing. “That’s two questions,” he observed, quietly smug. “One more and you have to be quiet.”

Perhaps he wasn’t as dim as he appeared.

Loth grinned. This was definitely entertaining, and he had no intention of being quiet regardless of what he’d said earlier, so he resolved to come up with the most ridiculous thing he could, just to see the boy stammer and sputter and blush some more. “You do look like you’ve been here rather a long time. And you don’t have the features of a commoner. Plus, you’re awfully bossy for a little slip of a thing. Could it be, I wonder? Is it possible that you, my little grub, are in fact the long-lost Prince Tarquin of Aguillon, rumoured to have been locked away by his uncle?”

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