Warlord (Mine to Take 1)
“Vicktor,” Valerian said firmly. “We need to talk.”
Vicktor had been doing an excellent job of ignoring his brother… despite the fact Valerian was standing right in front of him. But now it appeared Vicktor had little choice but to acknowledge him. “Why are you irritating me, Valerian? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Valerian’s lips turned up in a cynical little smile that was not lost on Vicktor. “I thought you might want to manage some business in the outer territories.”
“Isn’t this what I have you for? You are my general, after all. Why are you even here in the fortress? Should you not be out there managing my acquisitions?”
“I was. But now I am here. I need to discuss some things with you. I need instructions on how you wish me to proceed with –”
“Can you not figure these things out for yourself? Are you so inept? Perhaps I should have someone else in charge of my armies in the outer territories!”
Valerian seemed unmoved by the insult and the threat, which only got under Vicktor’s skin all the more. Anyone else would be cowering and offering effusive apologies. But not his brother. Never his brother.
“So you are saying all decisions regarding the outer territories are solely my own? You do not wish to be consulted in any way?” Valerian asked.
“No, that is not what I mean. Only that you can communicate with me through my vizier. You do not and should not be here to report to me in person. The travel time back to the outer territories is such that anything can happen in your absence.”
“I have many trusted lieutenants caring for things in my absence. Men you and I have both agreed upon. We don’t agree on much, but we have agreed on their competence.”
“Perhaps they are so competent I no longer need you.”
“In which case I will have nothing to do but lurk about the fortress. And we both know how much you enjoy my company,” Valerian said dryly.
Vicktor’s temper boiled. Valerian always had a reply to anything Vicktor said that was guaranteed to irk him. It occurred to Vicktor he could simply assassinate his brother and be done with him, but Valerian was his only heir and he would not see the dynasty he had worked so hard to build crumble into obscure dust. He wanted to go down in history as the greatest conqueror who ever lived… and he wanted his legacy to live on long after he died. “Very well. You’re here now so you might as well get on with it.”
“The eastern plains are now ours to do with as we please. The king of the Moglus has handed his surrender to me.”
“You mean to me,” Vicktor said darkly.
“Of course,” Valerian said, with another of his sardonic smiles. Those smiles annoyed Vicktor. They bordered on condescension. On insolence. “The Moglu people are notoriously savage fighters and to wrest their lands from them is an impressive victory. There remain clusters of rebels, but we will soon have them under control.”
“See you do. Rebels can cause many problems.”
“They become folk heroes to the people and encourage them to fight against us. Yes, I know. We will set them down quickly, I assure you.” Valerian paused for what seemed like a dramatic moment. “I have brought new slaves from the Moglu people to grace both our harems. Yours more than mine,” Valerian was quick to assure him. “You may have your pick of them.”
“When?” Vicktor demanded. “I want one now. I want a Moglu slave. Bring the selection before me. I will have my pick and then you may choose from what remains, Brother.”
“As you wish. Bring forth the slaves!” Valerian called to two soldiers waiting by one of the four sets of grand double doors leading into the throne room. The doors opened and a male eunuch led a string of straggly-looking slaves, both male and female, into the throne room. There were twenty in all. Vicktor knew the males were for his tastes. Valerian did not partake of the sexual favors of men. A true sign of his closed-mindedness. There was pleasure to be had from all quarters. Especially in the domination of a male the likes of a Moglu warrior.
These warriors stood proud and angry in their bonds and Vicktor grew hard at the thought of forcing them to his will. The women were also proud and defiant. There wasn’t a weak one among them. He would pick the most defiant of their ranks and bring them all to heel. Nothing would give him more pleasure.
Suddenly he had something to look forward to and this excited him. He even looked on his brother more favorably. This gift of spoils would not be immediately forgotten.
Vicktor stood up and walked along the line of slaves presented before him.
“Yes, yes. Very nice,” Vicktor said as he eyed the merchandise. “I am most pleased, my brother. This is worthy of a reward.”
One of Valerian’s eyebrows lifted. And no wonder. It was unprecedented that Vicktor should reward anyone. He was not one for compliments or praise of any kind. But he was in a very good mood now. The male slaves were beyond good. The females came in second. “I will let you have first pick,” Vicktor said magnanimously. He spoke with confidence, knowing Valerian would not choose any of his coveted males. “The first one,” he stressed. One was enough. Not that Valerian was one to increase his harem by much. His brother seemed satisfied with an incredibly small harem. There was something wrong with that, in Vicktor’s opinion.
Valerian did not question Vicktor’s generosity. He simply stepped forward. He did as his brother had done, slowly walking down the line of women and men. He walked back and stopped in front of a fair-skinned beauty. She looked a little worse for wear, having been carted from her distant lands, but it was very possible she would be quite promising. Vicktor frowned, regretting his generosity. Valerian would pick her. He knew he would. She was just the sort of thing both men liked. Her strong will and her beauty would appeal and delight.
“This one,” Valerian said, predictably. He reached out and touched two fingers beneath the girl’s chin. She jerked her head away and glared at Vicktor’s brother. Then she shot her head forward and spat in Valerian’s face.
Vicktor laughed as his brother dabbed away the spittle with his fingers. “Perhaps you have bitten off too much, brother. Let me take her off your hands.”
“No. I thank you. She will do fine for me.” He turned to one of the guards. “Remove her from the line.”
They disconnected the slave from all the others and handed her lead rope to Valerian.
“Now, if you will excuse me, brother,” Valerian said to Vicktor, “I will take my prize away. The rest are for your pleasure.”
“What, all? You want no others?”
“No. This one will do.”
Vicktor shook his head. He would never understand his brother. Well, fine. If he wanted to spend his time with only one of the slaves that was his business. All the more for him. And he wanted more. He reveled in more.
Valerian left the room and Vicktor turned back to his spoils.
“Now. Who will be first?” he asked.
Conquest (Mine to Take 2)
Valerian sat staring out his window. In his hand he held a missive from the Eastern Plains, where the Moglu rebels were stirring up more unrest. It was hard to subjugate a people when their heroes continued to elude capture. People were looking to the rebels’ leader, Grulon Ni Coro, to free them from tyranny. But in a twist of fate, a stunning unintentional victory, Grulon Ni Coro’s blood sister was now in Valerian’s harem.
He wondered what Grulon would do if he knew his sister Melena was shisha to Valerian — if he knew she was becoming willing and compliant for him. If he knew Valerian was going to strive to make her love him one day. He was unlike his brother in that way. Vicktor felt fear led to ultimate control. Valerian desired domination as well, but on a completely different level. He preferred loyalty to fear.
Valerian folded the missive and snapped his fingers sharply. A servant appeared at his elbow. “Take this and place it on my table, directly in front of my chair.”
“Yes, Sir,” the small female said softly before taking the letter and hurrying to do as instructed.
It did him no good to sit here and mull over things he could not control. Vicktor was not one of those things. Valerian had learned to manage his brother. It took a certain skill to do so. It took a man willing to spend all his time and energy balancing on the precipice between doing enough and going too far.
Valerian sighed and pushed to his feet. His mind would not rest. Why could he not just be satisfied with his life the way it was? What was it he was searching for, anyway? He was afraid one day he would get sick of his brother’s warmongering — or he would get sick of his brother, period.
And do what? What would or could he do? Turn against his brother? Try to become emperor himself? No. He did not want that mantle. It was too heavy. He was his brother’s general, a cunning tactician who had yet to be bested in any undertaking. One day a better tactician, a better soldier, would be brought to bear against Valerian. Oh, what a worthy battle that would be. He longed for that. A worthy battle. What he did now, for his brother, was not so worthy. He invaded the lands of innocent people, killed their men, and enslaved their people. All under his brother’s commands. Were it up to him…
But it wasn’t up to him. What he needed was a worthy diversion.
He needed something fresh and exciting. Something new.
He whistled sharply, and another servant popped up beside him.
“Yes, Sir?” he asked softly.
“Tell Anajou to prepare Melena for my pleasure tonight.”
“Yes, Sir.” The servant hastened off to do as instructed.
Valerian crossed the room to his bed and eyed the room critically for a moment. He wanted to make certain he had everything he needed. He wanted to know he could take his time with his new shisha, the latest lady to join his harem.
He had his favorites. His top three were the harem mothers, the women who cared for and guided all the other shishas — Anajou, Daria, and Hassa, the original three who had begun his harem. The three of them had been a gift from his brother on the day Vicktor’s first child, a daughter, was born. Valerian had not been allowed to keep a harem until that birth five years ago. Even though he had a harem now, none of his women was allowed to get pregnant and give birth until one of Vicktor’s shishas finally gave birth to a son, thus securing the succession of his empire.
Valerian pulled open his top dresser drawer, withdrew a key, and unlocked the chest at the foot of the bed. Unlocked, but did not open it. He knew what was in there. He would access the contents a little later, after Melena had been brought to him.
He smiled to himself when he thought of Melena. She was full of fire and defiance. But now, after spending a day and a night in his company, she was softening. She was confused. She didn’t know what to make of the situation she found herself in. He needed to gain her trust. In order to do that he needed to keep the promise he had made to her to find her sisters and bring them to her in safety… provided they were still alive and could be found. That was his next task. He could tell just how special she was. She could be very important to him. Yet trust was needed on both sides. It would take a lot for him to come to trust her… if she could be trusted. He didn’t know her well enough yet. But she showed incredible promise.
First he must break her down. Not break her will. He wouldn’t want that. Her will was one of the most beautiful things about her. He must break down the walls that stood between them. Walls like her hatred for his people. Her inherent mistrust of men… something she might not even realize she had. He wasn’t sure yet. He needed to break through this idea she had that giving in to him would be the same as losing herself. That was going to be the tricky part.